Villanova Wildcats

Villanova's bid to repeat as national champs ends after being 'stunned' by Wisconsin

Villanova's bid to repeat as national champs ends after being 'stunned' by Wisconsin

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BOX SCORE

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- They were up seven with five minutes to go and in those nightmarish final five minutes, everything that could go wrong went wrong.

The Villanova Wildcats committed bad turnovers. They missed shots. They didn't box out and allowed follow shots. They committed fouls.

Against some teams, against most teams, Villanova could have gotten away with the mistakes and moved on. Against a tough, veteran, talented Wisconsin team, it meant the end of Villanova's reign as national champions.

"They made a lot of plays down the stretch and we give them all the credit," Kris Jenkins said. "I don't think we did anything wrong, they just did everything right."

Wisconsin outscored Villanova, 15-5, over those final five minutes, turning a seven-point deficit into a 65-62 win and for the fourth straight year a berth in the Sweet 16 (see Instant Replay).

For Villanova, it was a shocking end to another phenomenal season.

"This one is more stunning to these guys and crushing," coach Jay Wright said. "Me included. Till the last second of that game, I thought we had a chance to win the game so I wasn't thinking about this or dealing with this. I don't think any of this were prepared for this. I think all of us are still stunned."

Villanova won 32 games this year and 129 games over the past four years, the 10th-most ever by a NCAA Division I program in a four-year span.

The Wildcats won the Big East regular-season title and the Big East Tournament. They weren't just ranked No. 1, they earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Then they drew a team that was just as talented, just as experienced and much deeper in the second round of the East Regional.

Wisconsin, ranked as high as seventh this year, is a 27-win team out of the Big Ten and really shouldn't have been an eight seed. But you play who you play, and in those last five minutes, Villanova simply was not the best team on the court.

"They're a heck of at team, they're really experienced, four starters who are seniors, Final Four experience," Villanova freshman Donte DiVincenzo said.

"Great teams make great plays. We executed, they went on a little run, and there were some little things we slipped up on. But credit to them. They're an amazing team and they executed well at the end.

"We slipped up. They never slipped up."

Villanova trailed by eight early but battled back and used a 24-13 run keyed by Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and DiVincenzo to build that 57-50 lead.

Then disaster.

Nigel Hayes made a layup. Five-point game.

Hayes blocked Hart's shot. Brunson missed a three. Bronson Koenig made a three. Two-point game.

Hart made one of two foul shots and Ethan Happ made a layup.

Just like that Villanova's cushion was gone.

The game was tied at 62 when Hayes faked out Mikal Bridges and drove for a reverse layup with 11 seconds left.

Hart -- who else? -- drove the lane looking for the equalizer, but he was stripped by Vitto Brown. Brown got fouled, made one of two and that was it.

"You're going to make mistakes, and we've been very good this year responding to mistakes," Wright said.

"Down the stretch, we tried to find a way to respond to each bad play and we just didn't find a way to respond at the end. We didn't have that final response that Wisconsin did."

It's hard to imagine the No. 1 team in the country being unable to protect a seven-point lead in the final five minutes of a game.

But this team just wasn't quite as deep, talented or explosive as last year's national champs. That team knew how to finish an opponent off when it had them down.

"Definitely, any type of lead like that you should be able to finish it off," said Hart, who finished his brilliant career with 19 points.

"But you have to give them credit. They played well. They made some incredible shots at the end. It's an experienced team that's been to the Final 4. Just have to give them credit."

Villanova has now lost as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed four times to opponents seeded seventh or lower in the last eight years.

The Wildcats, who got a combined eight points from three of their starters, made just one basket in the final 5 1/2 minutes.

"This is what NCAA Tournament games come down to," Wright said. "Down the stretch, they made two great offensive plays, two great defensive stops, and that was the difference in the game.

"From 57-50 the game really got shortened. They had a couple of possessions where they got an offensive rebound. They had another possession where the shot clock went down to zero, and then there was a foul called at the shot clock, so they got a whole other possession. So there weren't that many possessions.

"I think that's what the game came down to. We had a couple empty possessions at the end, and they had two great possessions. That's what close games come down to.

"We've been on the other end of that a lot. And when another team steps up and makes those plays and two great players like Koenig and Hayes make those plays, you got to give them credit."

Villanova made just five of 16 threes, just one of five in the second half. They missed six foul shots, including three in the final 3 1/2 minutes.

DiVincenzo scored 15 off the bench and Brunson scored 11, all in the second half. But Bridges was scoreless and Jenkins shot 2 for 9 for just six points with no threes.

"I hate to lose so I take every loss tough," Hart said. "This one's the same. It sucks, but we've had a great four years here, something we can definitely hang our hats on.

"We're going to go off and we'll be successful and the guys who are coming back, now they know this feeling. I just told them, make sure you don't feel this feeling again."

No. 5 Villanova hangs on to beat Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal

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No. 5 Villanova hangs on to beat Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Fifth-ranked Villanova walked into the locker room at halftime facing a double-digit deficit against Tennessee and several players battling foul trouble.

The way coach Jay Wright figured, there was at least one positive note: His Wildcats should be fresh and ready to roll out of the break.

Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday's semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis, earning a trip to the championship game.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of the break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

"I would love to tell you I came up with some great strategy," Wright said. "It was just we made it through the first half with everybody in foul trouble. ... We just said, `All right, we've got everybody back, let's go play, let's do what we were supposed to do.'"

Villanova shot 52 percent after halftime, fueled by Tennessee's 12 second-half turnovers that helped the Wildcats get loose on the break. The Wildcats also had an aggressive edge that got them to the line 24 times after halftime.

"That's how we should play, and throughout the whole game," said Mikal Bridges, who had 21 points. "You just saw parts of that today, in the beginning of the first half and the beginning of the second half. We practice every day trying to play like that for 40 minutes."

Villanova built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers (3-1).

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee, which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield's 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

"When they get points easily off turnovers, and out in transition, and also they get more possessions on offense, it's hard when you don't have those shot opportunities," Williams said. "I think their pressure really took us out of our offense.

"In the first half we did a good job of getting to what we wanted. In the second half, they just ran us out of what we wanted."

Big picture
Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half's worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

"We went in and they were feeling pretty good obviously and they were saying all the right things," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "But we didn't come out and do the right things."

Villanova: That's two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one -- full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor -- brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

Foul issues
Villanova had five players with at least two fouls by halftime, including starting forward Omari Spellman (three), Bridges (two) and Brunson (two). The game had a total of 52 fouls between the teams.

Brunson's scoring
Brunson scored 18 of his 25 points after halftime, finishing the game 8 of 16 from the field and 9 for 9 from the line to go with six assists.

"(Teammates) give me confidence," Brunson said. "Coach gives me confidence. I put the work in, I should have confidence in myself."

Second-half numbers
Villanova scored 14 of its 21 points off turnovers and 10 of its 12 fast-break points after halftime. The Wildcats also made 20 of 24 free throws after halftime and 33 of 37 for the game.

Up next
Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday's third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday's championship game.

No. 5 Villanova tops Western Kentucky, advances in Battle 4 Atlantis

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No. 5 Villanova tops Western Kentucky, advances in Battle 4 Atlantis

BOX SCORE

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Fifth-ranked Villanova failed to speed up Western Kentucky's controlled tempo and struggled to make shots through the first half of its Battle 4 Atlantis debut.

In the second half, the Wildcats looked far more like the high-scoring bunch that had cracked 100 points in each of their past two games.

Jalen Brunson scored 18 points while Villanova finally got loose in transition after halftime, helping the Wildcats beat the Hilltoppers 66-58 in Wednesday's opening round.

The Wildcats (4-0) found themselves in a close game until early in the second half. That's when they ran off a 13-2 burst to push ahead by double figures, part of a hot-shooting stretch that had them picking up the pace and scoring off turnovers.

"They usually play a little faster than that, but I think they were smart knowing they've got three days here," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "They controlled the tempo. ... Offensively they had us out of whack, and I think that had a lot to do with our poor shooting in the first half."

Villanova didn't get many easy scores in the first half and had just two fast-break points by the break, but had 14 in the second half while also scoring 16 of their 23 points off turnovers.

Villanova made 15 of 24 shots (63 percent) after halftime after shooting just 33 percent to lead 27-24 at the break. The Wildcats ultimately led by 18 points late.

"They find ways to have spurts and make runs," Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said. "And they were able to find a way to spurt out the second half a little bit on some turnovers."

Darius Thompson scored 16 points for the Hilltoppers (2-2), who shot 44 percent but struggled to maintain control with Villanova converting easy baskets off turnovers in the second half.

"I think our turnovers were kind of self-inflicted," Thompson said. "Just trying to do a little too much in the wrong times."

Big picture
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers kept Villanova close through the first half and trailed just 34-33 early in the second. Still, the Hilltoppers fell to 1-13 in their last 14 games against ranked opponents.

"I'm really proud of our team's effort," Stansbury said, "but I think it's the way we kind of let the game get away from us in the second half that I'm most disappointed with."

Villanova: The Wildcats came in putting up big offensive numbers, including 113 points against Nicholls State and 104 more against Lafayette in their last two games. They didn't find that same roll here, though they ultimately built a big lead and cruised to the final horn.

"We still have to get a lot better," Brunson said. "We're still a work in progress."

Bridges’ roll
Brunson is a preseason Associated Press All-American, but Mikal Bridges is leading Villanova in scoring. The junior guard had set career scoring highs with 23 points against Nicholls and then 24 against Lafayette, and he followed with 17 points and eight rebounds in this one.

Bench spark
Sophomore Donte DiVincenzo scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half for Villanova off the bench. He finished a tough layup through contact for a three-point play at the 5:11 mark.

DiVincenzo has scored in double figures in three of four games this season.

"He's really an unselfish guy," Wright said. "We really have six starters, you can tell by the minutes. And he's a guy that just said, `I don't care, I'll do whatever you need me to do.'

"And he comes in off the bench and he's incredible, and brings great energy. He was awesome in the second half."

Up next
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers will face No. 18 Purdue in Thursday's consolation bracket.

Villanova: The Wildcats advanced to play Tennessee on Thursday.