Villanova Wildcats

Villanova surges past West Virginia to reach Elite Eight

ap-villanova-team-celebrate.jpg
AP Images

Villanova surges past West Virginia to reach Elite Eight

BOX SCORE

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's buzzer-beating win over Georgetown in 1999 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

ap_97012702402_1.jpg
AP Images

Villanova's buzzer-beating win over Georgetown in 1999 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

January 30th 1999.  I was a 15-year-old who wondered how the Phillies would build around Scott Rolen, marveled at Lindros and LeClair’s 40 goal seasons, happy to have Iverson back after a lockout and was suspicious about some guy named ‘Reid’ the Eagles just hired.  

In the midst of all this, my best bud, Ryan Bennett and his family, scored tickets to Villanova vs. Georgetown at the now Wells Fargo Center for a Saturday noon tipoff and they were kind enough to invite me along.  

I remember Ryan and I had a CYO High School basketball game that night in Lansdale at 7 p.m.

“No problem, plenty of time”, we thought. 

The Bennett’s picked me up at that morning and off we went to what would be the best game I ever saw... 

Our seats were in the upper level, 1st row, in a corner at the end Nova would be shooting at in the 2nd half.

Steve Lapas’ Wildcats opened with a 13-0 run on Craig Esherick’s Hoyas. Esherick had just taken over for the legend, John Thompson. 

Just as an aside. My friend and I kept thinking Esherick looked A LOT like Norm MacDonald as Burt Reynolds (aka Turd Ferguson) on SNL’s celebrity Jeopardy. You be the judge…

Anyway, back to basketball.  

In the 2nd half, the Wildcats built a 17-point lead only to see it wiped away with a 17-0 Hoyas run. Georgetown’s Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje’s lay-up tied the game at 67 with 2:30 left. RBB was a Cameroonian baller before it was trendy. 

I remember a slew of guys were in foul trouble. Including RBB and Malik Allen.

In the final :45 seconds, tied at 69-69, both Nova and G-town sent guys to the line to shoot two. Neither team hit a free throw. Missed all four.  

Nova had one final chance on an inbounds play with 11 seconds left in regulation. John Celestand got the ball, tried working for a shot, gave it up to Allen who shot and missed from the top of the key as time expired.  

1st OT

The Hoyas struck first with a three, then three players fouled out; the Hoyas’ RBB and Jaleel Watkins and Nova’s T.J. Caouette. Six players would end up fouling out of this game in total. 

With :11 seconds left and Nova down two, Brooks Sales hit two free throws to tie it at 78. Kevin Braswell, a freshman guard for the Hoyas brought the ball up and was picked up by Celestand. Braswell rose for the game winner with :03 seconds on the clock and Celestand stuffed him! The ball never even left the freshman’s hand! Celestand was all over it. Smothered! 

Time ran out. 

2nd OT 

The game seesawed a bit. Howard Brown banked in a three for Nova. Braswell responded with a driving lay-up. 82-81, Georgetown.

With a little over 2:00 left, Allen, fouled out.  Nova would keep pace thanks to a huge three from Brian Lynch with just over a minute left that gave the Cats an 87-86 lead.   

Then things got bleak for Nova. 

Georgetown took a 90-87 lead on another Braswell layup and a free throws from Daymond Jackson and Anthony Perry. Perry made the first of two, missed the second. Nova secured the rebound and pushed up the floor with :14 seconds left. 

Then a Nova Miracle. 

The Wildcats, down 3, crossed half court and set up their offense with nine seconds left. They worked it to Brown in the corner. The same corner my friend and I were sitting over in the upper level. Brown let it fly and hit the three to tie the game at 90. With 2.4 seconds left the Hoyas inbounded under the basket and threw a pass to half court. The ball was tipped by Nova and wound up in the hands of the Cats’ Jermaine Medley. Medley grabbed the ball, spun and shot all in one motion. 

Splash. 

Buzzer Beater. 

Nova Wins! 

The Wildcats scored six points in under four seconds to win in double overtime, 93-90. 

Me, Ryan and his parents jumped with excitement, high-fived and then ran to the parking lot. We had our own game to play. We got from the upper level to the car in record time and we were one of the first cars out of the lot. We just made our CYO game in Lansdale, which for the record, we won.

One of the things that made being at this game so awesome was that the broadcast had a horrible camera angle for Medley’s game winner. ESPN didn’t capture the shot live. When Ryan and I got to our game that night, a teammate couldn’t believe we “were at that game.” He said it wasn’t until replays aired that people at home actually saw what happened.  

Fast forward 17 years. I’m boarding a flight, Charlotte to Philadelphia. Christmas Eve. None-other-than Steve Lappas sits next to me. We get to talking. Incredibly nice guy. I bring up this Nova game. Two things he told me. He knew Celestand had Braswell on that block in the first OT and he still can’t believe how Medley made that circus shot at the end. Neither can I. 

Nova-Georgetown double OT, truly the best game I ever saw.  

The Kris Jenkins shot vs. North Carolina was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

The Kris Jenkins shot vs. North Carolina was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

Reuben Frank and Sean Kane both chose the 2016 national championship game between Villanova and North Carolina as the greatest game they ever saw in person. Reuben was there as a reporter, Sean was there as a fan. Here are each of their perspectives. 

Reuben Frank: We're taught from Day 1 as journalists to never let your emotions show, to remain unbiased, and for the first 33 years, six months and 12 days of my career I had a perfect record. Then Kris Jenkins hit a jumper. So much for objectivity. I was court-side at NRG Stadium in Houston - second row, center court - when Jenkins his that 26-footer at the buzzer to give Villanova the 2016 NCAA Championship over North Carolina, and I'm pretty sure that Mike Kern of the Daily News, sitting to my left, and I both stood up and looked at each other and screamed "OHHHHHHHHHHH" at the top of our lungs when the ball splashed through the basket as the buzzer sounded.

Then, as the confetti rained down from the roof and bedlam ensued, Jenkins for some reason ran right in front of me to celebrate and I began taking as many pictures as I could. The Super Bowl was dramatic and unforgettable. But for that Villanova-UNC game I was on top of the action, just a few feet from the court, just a few feet where I lost my cool after 33 years, just a few feet from the greatest shot in college basketball history. 

Sean Kane: This game narrowly edges out Super Bowl 52 and the classic Duke/Kentucky regional final at the Spectrum in 1992. I'm fortunate enough to have been in attendance for arguably the two greatest shots in college basketball history - Christian Laettner's turnaround jumper to beat Kentucky and Kris Jenkins' three-pointer to beat North Carolina. The 2016 national title game is my choice for a number of reasons. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I've been a Villanova fan for as long as I can remember. My grandfather went to Villanova. My uncle and cousin went there too. I've been going to Villanova basketball and football games since I was a little boy. So to be there to see my favorite team win a national championship at the buzzer? Nothing tops that. 

The 2016 Final Four was the first time I attended a Villanova NCAA Tournament game as a fan. I covered Villanova in the tournament every year from 2006-2009, trying my best to stay objective. But going as a fan was a new experience. My Dad and I decided to go as soon as Villanova beat Kansas in the Elite Eight. My wife immediately got us plane tickets and a hotel room in Houston and we left the morning of the national semifinals. We were there for Villanova's historic 44-point win over Oklahoma on Saturday night, the biggest blowout in Final Four history. The PGA Tour was in Houston that weekend, so we spent Sunday watching golf. It all worked out perfectly. Then the main event - Villanova and North Carolina in the championship game on Monday night. North Carolina had ended Villanova's season in the NCAA Tournament three times during the Jay Wright Era - 2005, 2009 and 2013. But this time was different thanks to Phil Booth's 20 points off the bench and Ryan Arcidiacono finding Jenkins for the win as the buzzer sounded. It was one of the greatest games in college basketball history. It ended with the best shot in NCAA Tournament history. And I was there to see it with my Dad, who raised me as a Villanova fan. That's as good as it gets for me.