Villanova Wildcats

Josh Hart overcomes late miscues to put Villanova in Big East Tournament title game

Josh Hart overcomes late miscues to put Villanova in Big East Tournament title game


NEW YORK -- Tough to imagine a Josh Hart turnover in the final seconds of a tight Big East Conference tournament game against Seton Hall.

Now imagine it happening two years in a row.

Last year, Hart committed a costly turnover with 20 seconds left and Villanova leading Seton Hall by two in the Big East championship game. That turnover led to Isaiah Whitehead's game-winning basket and foul shot and Seton Hall's upset win over Villanova.

Even though Villanova roared to the NCAA title a month later, it's a play that haunted Hart.

"It does still," he said at his locker Friday night.

Fast forward to this year.

The opponent again was Seton Hall, and this time it was a semifinal game with 46 seconds left and Villanova trailing by a point.

And again the unthinkable.

Another Hart turnover.

And even in the heat of battle before a packed house at Madison Square Garden, Hart couldn't help think back to the turnover a year earlier.

"Oh, man," Hart said after Villanova had hung on for a 57-55 win in the Big East semifinals (see Instant Replay). "That came to my mind for a second. For a quick second I thought about that one."

It wasn't Hart's only gaffe in the final two minutes. On Villanova's previous possession, with 1:16 left and Villanova trailing by a point, he missed the front end of a one-and-one.

A very rare and very rough stretch for the national Player of the Year candidate.

"I'm a competitor and I missed that front end of that one-and-one down one," he said. "I'm like, 'Come on, Josh, you can't miss the front end of a one-and-one with two minutes left in the game down one. You can't do that."

Next possession? The turnover.

"Coach called a play," he said. "I was a little too aggressive. I should have passed it. Turned the ball over. 'Come on, Josh.' Two things that are uncharacteristic for me."

Villanova is a successful basketball team because it's very talented and very well-coached, but it's also a remarkably tight-knit group of kids that are unfailingly unselfish and team-oriented.

After his critical turnover, the four other Wildcats on the floor came over and encouraged Hart as Seton Hall prepared to inbound.

"Everybody came over and said, 'Attitude, let's get a stop,'" Hart said. "That's why this team … I think we're a good team but that's why I think we can get better. Times like that where you make what could be a costly mistake, everyone comes up to you and says, 'Next play, hey, let's get a stop.'

"I said, 'I'm right there with you, let's go.' And we came and we got some stops."

And Hart got redemption.

When Kris Jenkins' potential game-winning three from the left wing sailed long, Hart soared over Seton Hall's Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado and gave Villanova the lead with 9.6 seconds left.

Hart was fouled and made the free throw, and after Delgado into missing a game-winning attempt in the paint, Villanova had a dramatic win and for the third straight year a berth in the Big East title game.

The Wildcats will play Creighton at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the championship game.  

"I knew it was hard," Hart said of Jenkins' miss. "Right when he shot it I said, 'Oh, that's off.' I knew he put a little bit too much mustard on it and it bounced perfectly. Half of that was luck."

Hart finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds as Villanova improved to 30-3 with its third win over Seton Hall this year. The first two were by 22 and 30 points.

"I got a good look and he was in a perfect position to follow it up," Jenkins said. "He's a great athlete. He's the best player in the country. Whether he gets the award or not, I don't care. He's by far the best player in the country. Nothing he does ever surprises me."

Jalen Brunson added 13 points for Villanova, and freshman Donte DiVincenzo had nine off the bench.

Villanova shot just 26 percent in the first half and fell behind by 11 points. The Wildcats shot 59 percent in the second half.

Really, this game was an instant replay of last year's. At least for the first 39 minutes and 50 seconds.

"Very similar," Hart said. "I think the last play, last year we did something very uncharacteristic and we learned from that. This year, we buckled down, we had our attention to detail the last couple possessions and we got stops."

Villanova, which scored a tournament-record 108 points in its 41-point win over St. John's on Thursday, made just five of 19 threes Friday and really had to scramble for every point it got.

Nothing came easy for the Wildcats.

"I'm glad we were able to be challenged like that," senior center Darryl Reynolds said. "It doesn't happen a lot, so you've got to be thankful for those challenges because they make you stronger. To pull through a game like this, it teaches you a lot about yourself and a lot about your team.

"It's just sticking together and making sure, 'Hey, let's not panic.' Are we mad that we're down? Of course. But let's not panic and lose our minds."

Villanova has been in enough big games to understand how to respond when trailing by double digits.

"We couldn't dwell on the past, we couldn't dwell on the mistakes we were making defensively, we definitely couldn't dwell on the shots we were missing," Brunson said.

"So we just thought about the next play and hopefully get better and keep fighting. As long as we're together, as long as we're fighting like that, we're going to be good. As long as we stick together."

Nobody kept fighting in the face of adversity more than Hart.

"Luckily my guys picked me up," Hart said. "We got some stops at the end and luckily we were able to gut out this one. A little bit different from last year. At least the ending was different."

Villanova basketball to hold exhibition doubleheader for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico

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Villanova basketball to hold exhibition doubleheader for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico

As many citizens in Puerto Rico continue to struggle with the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, Villanova basketball has decided to use its platform to raise money for relief.

The Villanova men’s and women’s teams will host an exhibition doubleheader Nov. 1 at the Jake Nevin Field House, with all ticket sales benefiting the organization “Unidos Por Puerto Rico.” Villanova is also encouraging fans to make additional donations at this website

The Wildcats women's team will play East Stroudsburg (Division II) at 6 p.m. The men’s team will follow, with a contest against Drexel at 8:30 p.m.

“The impact of Hurricane Irma on our fellow citizens of Puerto Rico has been tragic,” Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson said. “We are grateful that the NCAA is permitting its members to participate in making donations in this unique way as we get ready for the college basketball season. I hope the Nova Nation will join us in supporting this relief effort.”

The men’s team, ranked No. 6 nationally in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, was upset by Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season after a national championship campaign in 2015-16.

The Villanova women finished last season 20-15 overall, making a run to the semifinals of the WNIT before falling to Michigan, 65-11.

Both teams start the regular season Nov. 10, with the women visiting Hartford and the men taking on Columbia at the Wells Fargo Center.

Villanova picked to win Big East in preseason coaches' poll

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Villanova picked to win Big East in preseason coaches' poll

For the fourth year in a row, Villanova was picked to win the Big East in the league's preseason coaches' poll.

The Wildcats received eight of the 10 possible first-place votes in the poll, which was released on Wednesday and doesn't allow coaches to vote for their own teams. Seton Hall and Xavier received the other two first-place votes.

Villanova finished the 2016-2017 season with a 15-3 record in the Big East, good for first place in the conference, and capped it off with the Big East tournament crown.

The Wildcats finished last season with a 32-4 record overall and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The team returns two starters from last season, including forward Mikal Bridges, who was picked for the All-Big East second team, and point guard Jalen Brunson, who was selected as the 2017-2018 Big East Preseason Player of the Year. Brunson's averages of 14.7 points and 4.1 assists led him to an All-Big East first team selection in 2016-2017.

Sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo, who averaged 8.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game on his way to making the Big East all-freshman team, is another returning player that will play a big factor for 'Nova. The Wildcats also add freshman forward Omari Spellman to the mix after he redshirted last season. Spellman was picked in the coaches' poll as the preseason Freshman of the Year.

Jay Wright's squad tips off the 2017-18 season on Nov. 10 against Columbia.