Villanova Wildcats

Villanova looking to apply lessons learned from last year's Big East tourney loss

Villanova looking to apply lessons learned from last year's Big East tourney loss

VILLANOVA -- The way the season ended, with a historic romp through the NCAA Tournament and an astonishing last-second win over North Carolina in the championship game, it's easy to forget that a few weeks before Villanova paraded down Market Street, the Wildcats walked off the Madison Square Garden court disappointed and discouraged.

Villanova won the national title a year ago but lost in the Big East title game to Seton Hall.

Seton Hall roared out to a 37-23 lead, Villanova tied the game at 50, took its first lead at 67-64 with less than a minute left, then lost 69-67 on a game-winner by Isaiah Whitehead, who finished with 25 points (and now plays for the Brooklyn Nets).

"That game definitely was humbling," said Josh Hart, who committed a costly turnover in the final minute. "We didn't play Villanova basketball for 30 of the 40 minutes. Probably the last 10 minutes we started playing Villanova basketball and it was a different game.

"But we know that's what we have to do now. If we don't have that attention to detail and focus on the little things, we're going to have the same result."

As the Wildcats made their run through the tournament, they often looked back at that Seton Hall game as the springboard for what was to follow.

And with this year's tournament getting underway, it's certainly on their minds again.

"I would have much rather won it and be dealing with the challenge of doing it again, but the only positive of not winning it is the guys are hungry," coach Jay Wright said.

"We try to make them hungry even if they do win it, but the guys know we got beat last year. Seton Hall played better and we know we've got to go up there and play our best basketball."

Top-seeded Villanova opens play in the Big East tourney at noon Thursday at the Garden against the winner of a game Wednesday evening between 8-seed St. John's and 9-seed Georgetown.

Villanova, 28-3 and ranked No. 2 in the country, beat Georgetown by 11 and 26 points and St. John's by 13 points twice.

Last year's loss to Seton Hall was quickly forgotten by outsiders as Villanova roared through the NCAA Tournament. But the players on that team never forgot it.

"I think we were just more distraught with how we played," said Jalen Brunson, who played a career-low nine minutes against Seton Hall and failed to score for the only time in his two seasons at 'Nova.

"We didn't play Villanova basketball. Even though we lost, we were more choked up with how we didn't play Villanova basketball, and that really got to us, and that's what Coach preached.
 
"It's definitely going to help us. The most important thing is if we come out and play for each other and not be selfish, as long as our heads are clear and focusing on the right thing, we're going to be OK."

Villanova won the 2015 Big East title game over Xavier when current seniors Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds and Hart were sophomores. Hart came off the bench that year to win tourney MVP honors.

The Wildcats' only other Big East tournament title came in 1995 when 'Nova beat UConn.

Villanova has lost in the title game five times: in 1981, 1982, 1988, 1997 and 2016.

"Over the summer it drove us a lot," Jenkins said of the Seton Hall game. "We never forgot it.

"Losing hurts. Especially the way we did. But we learn from it, just like we learn from every game, and hopefully, we can just move forward in the right direction. I feel like we're getting better at the right time. We'll see where that takes us.

"It's a new season and it's either win or go home. It's a one-game tournament from here on out. If you don't take care of business, you're going to go home and watch it."

Since losing to Seton Hall, Villanova is 34-3, losing twice to Butler and once to Creighton this year.

As remarkable as last year was, Villanova actually takes a better record into the postseason this year.

"Every team is coming in saying we have a chance to win this tournament, and every team is fresh and feeling hungry about their opportunity," Wright said.

"No matter what we did in the regular season, we have to feel just as hungry and have to anticipate this opportunity just as much. Can't feel like we've accomplished anything. We have a new opportunity to accomplish something. ...

"Just because we did it last year, don't anticipate that we have a lot more games to play. We might only have [two] more games, and we have to think about it that way. There has to be an urgency and a lot of the memory of a long run last year, that's not a given. We've got to earn that."

A win Thursday will set up a game at 6:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of Seton Hall-Marquette. Butler is the 2-seed and could meet 'Nova only in the title game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

"Last year, after we lost, we knew that we could be beaten, so we made sure we kept that in mind every game after that," sophomore forward Mikal Bridges said.

"We think about last year, where if we didn't come out to play early we can lose to a good team, and every team in the Big East is a good team. It's just if you don't bring your A-game, no matter who you play, they can beat you. That's just how it goes when you play in the Big East."

Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

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Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Carsen Edwards had a career night, scoring 42 points as Purdue knocked reigning national champion Villanova out of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night in an 87-61 rout.

Matt Haarms added 18 points and nine rebounds for the third-seeded Boilermakers (25-9), who advanced to their third straight Sweet 16.

Eric Paschall had 19 for Villanova (26-10), which saw its quest for a third national title in the last four seasons end during the tournament's first weekend. Fellow senior Phil Booth scored 15 points, putting him over 1,500 for his career.

Edwards has battled a sore back and had been in a recent shooting slump, making just 7 of 23 shots from the field in Purdue's first-round win over Old Dominion. He found the bottom of the net early and often against `Nova, making 12 of his 21 shots, including nine of 16 from behind the arc.

Purdue shot 54 percent while holding Villanova to just 20 baskets on 58 shots (34 percent).

Purdue jumped out early, building a 13-point lead thanks to Edwards' outside shooting and Haarms' work down low.

The 7-foot-3 Dutchman towered over the shorter Wildcats, who didn't start anyone over 6-8. He had Purdue's first four points on a dunk and a put-back. Edwards hit five of his nine first-half shots, all of which came from three-point range.

Purdue had nine three-point baskets in the first half and a dunk by Haarms put the Boilermakers up 43-24 at intermission.

Another dunk from the Dutchman extended the lead to 35 in the second half. Villanova chipped away but the sixth seeded Big East champions did not have weapons to make it a game.

Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

BOX SCORE

HARTFORD, Conn. — Villanova got off to a slow start in defense of its NCAA championship against a determined, defensive-minded Saint Mary's team that came in confident after a season-defining win.

But the Wildcats, a No. 6 seed in this NCAA Tournament after an up-and-down season, have one thing no team in the field of 64 has: a pair of leaders who have won two national titles.

 NPhil Booth scored 20 points, fellow senior Eric Paschell added 14 and Villanova held off 11th-seeded Saint Mary's 61-57 on Thursday night.

"We're growing, our young guys are growing, but we have two seniors who do everything for us, on and off the court," coach Jay Wright said. "We're just so lucky to have them."

Sophomore Jermaine Sameuls added 12 points for the Wildcats (26-9), who led for almost 33 minutes, but never by more than eight points.

"The tempo was excruciating," Wright said. "We felt going in we were going to have to grind with them."

The Gaels used the same slow pace to upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament, and it gave them a chance against Villanova (26-9) in a tense opening-round matchup.

Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts each had 13 points for Saint Mary's (22-12). Ford's basket in the lane after a few nifty moves got the Gaels within six points at 61-55 with 34 seconds left.

After Paschell missed a foul shot on the other end, Fitts cut the deficit to four points with a leaner in the lane. The Gaels had two more chances in the final seconds, but Fitts hit the rim on a 3-point attempt and Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey stole the ball from Ford in the final seconds to seal the win.

"We had a few games this year where we put the press on and were able to get back in the game," said Ford. "And if we get a few of those loose balls, or maybe make a three when we were down four, I think it's a different game."

Saint Mary's led 30-28 at the half, but Booth scored the first five points after intermission during a 12-3 run that put the Wildcats up 40-33. He had 12 points and five of his six assists in the second half.

"We weren't doing that bad, actually," Booth said. "It was more that they were playing very well and we were trying to match how they were bringing it. I think we just had to take it to another level, because they were playing at a high level."

Big picture

Villanova: The defending champions are in the tournament for the 14th time in 15 seasons and improved to 14-1 since 2016.

Saint Mary's: The Gaels are 4-6 in opening-round games in the NCAA Tournament and 5-10 overall. Saint Mary's has advanced to the Sweet 16 once in the modern era when it beat the Wildcats in 2010. There's a reminder of that run in the hallway outside the locker room that the players see as they walk out to practice each day in McKeon Pavilion.

Empty arena

The game tipped to a relatively empty arena, but it wasn't because nobody had bought tickets.

Fans of the Wildcats, many of whom made the 4-hour drive from Philadelphia to Hartford, Connecticut, were lined up along with Gaels fans behind metal detectors as security emptied the arena from the afternoon session.

"You worry about those things, you know?" Wright said. "We have a lot of guys in the NCAA Tournament for the first time thinking, `This is the NCAA Tournament?' There's no one in the stands."

By halftime, the 16,000-seat XL Center was nearing capacity, but some frustrated fans were sill filing in.

From distance

The game was billed as a battle between one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams in Villanova against some of the nation's best perimeter defenders. In the end, the Wildcats finished 8 of 20 from behind the arc, while Saint Mary's was 8 of 22.

On the boards

The taller Gaels won the rebounding battle 33-29 and 10-5 on the offensive end. The Wildcats didn't have an offensive board until the second half and that led to an 11-4 advantage for Saint Mary's in second-chance points. Wright said this year's team was hurt by the transfer of 6-foot-9 Dylan Painter, but is going to have to find a way against taller opponents.

Up next

Villanova will play No. 3 seed Purdue in the second round Saturday.