Villanova Wildcats

Villanova ready for pressure of trying to repeat in NCAA Tournament

Villanova ready for pressure of trying to repeat in NCAA Tournament

Printable bracket with game times

East Region | West Region | Midwest Region | South Region

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The challenge has changed for the Villanova Wildcats.
No longer is the pressure of the NCAA Tournament focused on getting through opening weekend.
Now, as the No. 1 overall seed, it's on defending their championship -- something that hasn't been done since the Florida Gators in 2006-07.
"There was a big monkey on our back with the first weekend thing," senior guard Josh Hart said Wednesday before the Wildcats practiced inside KeyBank Center. "It was kind of weird this year not having to answer that question that I answered the last three years. But, you know, it is what it is. Both of them are challenging. We just know we've got to be focused and ready to play come tomorrow."
The quest to repeat begins in heavily-favored fashion against 16th-seeded Mount St. Mary's, the Northeast Conference champions, which defeated New Orleans on Tuesday in a First Four game.
As the No. 1 overall seed, anything less than a romp by Villanova would be a surprise. Of course, with that comes another form of, you guessed it, pressure.
"You're a 1-seed, and so you're supposed to win it if you're the 1-seed, right?" Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "It's all about how you handle that, and I think having that pressure last year and having pressure this year, I think makes it a little bit easier to handle."
Wright's aim has been to get his team to embrace that -- "allow it to make you better" -- he said Wednesday.
Should the unimaginable start to look possible Thursday and the Mountaineers start to threaten, Wright knows an entire arena full of basketball fans will become the biggest Mount St. Mary's supporters on the planet. Having never happened before, the 16-over-1 upset is eagerly anticipated.
"We played Monmouth in the Wells Fargo Center where we play our home games. They were a 16-seed and they made a run on us and the whole building turned on us. It was like a Monmouth home game in our arena," Wright recalled from 2006. "I was shocked. I had never experienced that. We were a No. 1 seed and everyone was going for the underdog. That's a crazy kind of pressure, especially when you're on your home court. You know those teams, they can get it going and they put game pressure on you when you're a 1-seed. You've got to be ready for it and got to overcome that, too."
Assuming they do, a matchup with either Wisconsin or Virginia Tech awaits in the second round Saturday. Win that, and the hype will only continue to build.
"That will be something surrounding us [that] will be a distraction, and we've just got to focus on each other," Hart said. "We've just got to focus on playing basketball for 40 minutes. If we do that, we'll take the outcome."
That strategy has worked to near perfection this season. A 31-3 record, Big East championship and No. 1 overall seed are the results.
"The blessing about Coach and this program is nothing ever really changes," Hart said. "I think that's the biggest thing. No matter if you're coming off a national championship year or we were coming off of that 13-19 year, nothing in this program ever changes. The core values are still the same. The commitment to our core values is still the same."
Hart gets plenty of credit for instilling those values in his younger teammates, as do fellow seniors Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. Those three were asked Wednesday if they have been able to fully enjoy the run they've been on.
"I think it was harder last year to embrace it, just with … everything that came around with the first-round exit or the first-weekend exit, the last couple of years, so that was kind of hard to embrace," Hart said. "Because we knew, no matter how we played, that first game, we knew we were going to have to -- if we won that one, we knew we were going to have to answer that question and we knew that was going to be the big story and everything the next couple of days.
"And now, it's hard to do it now because we have questions about repeating. So, you know, you can't really embrace it too much. Obviously, it's a blessing being able to be here. … But that's why we've got to just rely on each other and focus on each other and don't focus on anything else. We have to embrace the time we have together at the end."
"Just take it one day at a time, one game at a time," Jenkins added. "We really enjoy being around each other, and we're looking forward to tomorrow."
"You can't look too far behind or too far forward because you end up tripping on what you're doing right now," Reynolds said. "Coach is trying to drive that home, just focusing on the present, focusing on the next game. We can think about repeating and completely overlook the next game, and you lose, and you don't even have a chance to make it to that point to be able to repeat. So it's just something we've been doing the last couple years, just making sure we're focused on the next game, focused on what we can control at the moment."

Villanova surges past West Virginia to reach Elite Eight

AP Images

Villanova surges past West Virginia to reach Elite Eight


BOSTON -- Villanova's 3-point party rolled past the intense pressure of West Virginia to bring the Wildcats to the doorstep of another Final Four two seasons after winning a national championship.

The top-seeded Wildcats continued their outside feast in the NCAA Tournament, downing the fifth-seeded Mountaineers 90-78 on Friday night to earn their second trip to the regional finals in three seasons.

Jalen Brunson led Villanova with 27 points and Omari Spellman had 18 with eight rebounds as Villanova overcame the West Virginia press by hitting 13 of 24 shots from 3-point range.

Daxter Miles had 16 points to lead West Virginia. Jevon Carter and Sagaba Konate added 12 each.

Villanova (33-4) has now made 44 3-pointers for the tournament. The outside barrage helped the Wildcats overcome 16 turnovers and played into their Sweet 16 plan for their opponents nicknamed "Press Virginia": Attack the stifling defense head-on.

"What a game, man. I hope that looked as good as it did from the bench, man," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "That was the most physically demanding, mentally draining 40 minutes we've played in a long time. They are so relentless."

The Wildcats struggled at times, especially in the first half, but dug out of a six-point hole in the second half with an 11-0 run.

The Mountaineers (26-11) stayed close throughout, ramping up the pressure and making Villanova play faster than it wanted to early. But foul trouble throughout the second half was too much for West Virginia to overcome after it gave up the lead.

Carter was called for his third with 17:33 left in the game. That was followed by Miles being whistled for his third and fourth fouls over a two minute stretch that sent him to the bench with 15 minutes remaining.

Coach Bob Huggins said the fouls "absolutely" stifled the Mountaineers' ability to keep pressure on Villanova.

"When the whistle keeps blowing it really takes away your aggression," he said.

West Virginia adjusted for a while, taking advantage of a more than three-minute Villanova scoring drought to take a 60-54 edge with just over 11 minutes left.

But Villanova heated up again. Its 11-point run was capped by a thunderous block and dunk on the other end by Omari Spellman that pushed the Wildcats back in front 65-60.

The Wildcats kept the momentum going, stretching the lead to 76-66 on a 3-pointer by Brunson.

"The deeper you go, the better the teams are going to be," Brunson said. "For us, most importantly, nothing changes no matter who we play, where we play, what time we play. We play every game like it's our last."

West Virginia never got closer than 4 points the rest of the way.

"I felt like we gave it everything we had," Carter said. "We just didn't make shots tonight and Villanova did."

Villanova led 44-42 at the half after a fast-paced opening 20 minutes. Brunson led all scorers with 16 points in the half, with West Virginia getting 11 points from Daxter Miles.

The Wildcats came out firing, connecting on their first seven field goals. They handled the Mountaineers' pressure well early. But the Wildcats had three turnovers over a 65-second stretch during an 8-0 Mountaineers run that put them in front 33-30.

Wright said he never lost faith in his team.

"I just looked at Jalen, Mikal (Bridges) and Phil (Booth) and I could see in their eyes we were good," he said.

Big picture
West Virginia: It's a tough loss for the Mountaineers, but it doesn't diminish the incredible effort by a senior class that reached the Sweet 16 three times in four years.

Villanova: The Wildcats are primed for another title run with their talent led by player of the year contender Brunson, the experience of the 2016 title and the lessons learned from early tournament departures in several years, including a second-round loss to Wisconsin last year.

Milestone watch
The Wildcats' 13 3-pointers give them 432 for the season, putting them 11 away from a Division I record. VMI hit 442 3-pointers in 2006-07.

No regrets
Despite the outcome, Carter said he is proud of his classmates' four-year run. Friday's game marked the 10th career NCAA Tournament game for Carter and Miles -- tying them for the most in school history.

Carter said the tournament will always mean a lot to both of them.

"It's everything. Everybody is in tune with March Madness. I feel like it's bigger than the NBA playoffs," he said. "Anything can happen in March. ... Unfortunately we lost in the Sweet 16."

Up next
Villanova will face Texas Tech in Sunday's regional final.

Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

USA Today Images

Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

VILLANOVA, Pa. — There were many reasons why Villanova was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And many more for why it's one of just two top seeds still standing.

The Wildcats do a lot of things well. They have depth, they can shoot from three, they defend, they are well-coached and they play hard. But perhaps their greatest attribute isn’t physical or psychological.

It’s experience. 

Of 'Nova’s core six, five were on the national championship team two seasons ago. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth played key roles on that squad. Donte DiVincenzo (injured) and Eric Paschall (transfer) were on the team but did not play. Having players that talented and that seasoned can’t be quantified. Not to mention a coaching staff still in tact from that title team. 

Between that run in 2015-16 and playing one of the toughest schedules in the country in a battle-tested Big East conference, there is nothing this group has not seen.

“Obviously the playing experience is most important but having coaches who have been in it," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said Monday. "Having guys like Donte, Eric, who were sitting out, be a part of that '16 run — that’s important, too. They learned a lot, they picked up a lot. To be able to share that experience with the young guys, I think that helps this team a lot.”

DiVincenzo agreed with his coach's sentiment.

“We’ve seen the biggest stage," the redshirt sophomore guard said. "Although myself and Eric were not playing, we were there and witnessed it and we know what it takes not only to win it but to get there.”

Next up for Villanova is the Sweet 16 and fifth-seeded West Virginia on Friday night in Boston. The Mountaineers begin guarding you in the parking lot. It is a 90-foot torture test of relentless pressure, end to end. A brutal matchup for any team.

But rest assured, Villanova will be prepared and won’t be overwhelmed. 

“No matter what the stage is, we don’t care," Bridges said. "You can put us anywhere, we’re going to play the same game. We tell the young guys, 'Don’t think of it as the Sweet 16, think of it as the next game.'"

It may be more than just the next game.

But the moment won’t be too big for this bunch that’s seen it all.