BUFFALO, N.Y. – A 15-5 spurt by Wisconsin over the final 5:31 helped Wisconsin rally past Villanova 65-62 in an NCAA Tournament second round game Saturday at KeyBank Center. The Wildcats completed their season with a 32-4 record while Wisconsin upped its mark to 27-9.
The Badgers advanced to next Friday’s NCAA East Regional semifinal.
“That was a great college basketball game that came down to a few plays at the end,” stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “Wisconsin made a couple of great offensive plays and then got a couple of stops. That was the difference in a game this close. We played hard too. I’m proud of our guys. But Wisconsin made the big plays late in the game.”
This contest ended the careers of the winningest class in Villanova Basketball history – seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. The group played on teams that captured 129 victories over their four seasons, including four regular season BIG EAST titles, a pair of BIG EAST Tournament crowns and the 2016 NCAA national championship.
“I’m always going to be together with my brothers,” said Hart of his classmates, who arrived at Villanova in the summer of 2013. “I may not be on the court together with them anymore, but I’m going to be talking with them. They are my brothers for life, regardless of what happened out there on the court.”
After three points by Hart to open the scoring in the opening minute of the contest, the Badgers bounced back with a 9-0 run, keyed by their defense. The Wildcats generated just three field goal attempts in the contest’s first 4:31 as they committed three turnovers in that span and trailed 9-3 at the first official timeout of the contest.
As he did in Thursday night’s first round win over Mount St. Mary’s, redshirt freshman guard Donte DiVincenzo entered the game and injected life into the Wildcats offense. He scored seven quick points and as the game approached the midpoint of the first half it was deadlocked at 12.
Wisconsin, however, reeled off eight straight points to regain the lead at 20-12. Hart – who ended the day with 19 points - responded with consecutive points for VU. After 12:58 of action, the Badgers held a 22-19 edge on the scoreboard.
Despite its best efforts, Villanova found itself down 31-27 after 20 minutes and the key numbers were fairly straightforward. The Wildcats were held to 8-of-27 shooting from the field (.296) while Wisconsin converted on 13-of-24 (.542). VU stayed within striking distance largely due to its ability force eight Badger turnovers in the period.
Villanova climbed back into the lead midway through the second half as Brunson, Hart and DiVincenzo (15 points, six rebounds) helped ignite the Wildcats’ attack. When DiVincenzo poured in a 3-pointer from above the top of the key, Villanova had a 57-50 lead over Wisconsin and the Badgers signaled for timeout with 5:16 on the clock.
However, the sledding got much more challenging the rest of the way.
“When it was 57-50, the game really got shortened,” stated Wright. “They had a couple of possessions where we got a stop and then they got an offensive rebound. They had another possession where the shot clock was nearly at zero and a foul was called. There weren’t that many possessions and we had a couple of empty possessions. They got a great play by Nigel Hayes driving the baseline and a 3-pointer from Bronson Koenig on an inbounds play that hurt us.
“Close games come down to those kinds of plays. When another team steps up and makes those plays, it can be the difference. Hayes and Koenig made big plays.”
After Koenig drained his key 3-pointer to break a 59-59 tie, there was still two minutes on the game clock. A Brunson drive and finish narrowed the Wildcats’ deficit to 62-61 at the 1:39 mark. A DiVincenzo steal with 36 seconds left led to a Badgers foul. The Wilmington, Del., native made one of two at the line and the contest was even at 62.
Enter Hayes, whose nifty inside finish put Wisconsin in front 64-62 with 12 seconds to play. After a Villanova timeout, the Wildcats inbounded the basketball and were met with full-court pressure that kept the basketball out of Brunson’s hands. It found its way to the team’s All-American Hart, who drove the lane in an effort to tie the score. But his shot was blocked, Wisconsin claimed the basketball and added one more free throw to make the final margin 65-62.
“Just a great defensive play,” noted Wright of the sequence.
The Wildcats were held to a season-low five assists. What’s more, Wisconsin connected on the highest percentage of its field goal attempts of any VU opponent this season (.531).
“It came down to a couple of plays at the end,” Wright noted, “and Wisconsin executed better than we did. You get into these kinds of games in the NCAA Tournament and you have to give Greg (Gard) and his team all the credit.”