Villanova downs W.Va. for trip to Elite Eight
- Author: Steve Townsend Mar 24, 2018,
Mar 24, 2018, 14:09
Updates photos, links. With AP Photos. Jalen Brunson scored 27 points to lead Villanova.
West Virginia is going to ugly-up this game.
Villanova is certainly capable of winning four more games to secure its second national championship in three years.
Jalen Brunson, right, of Villanova gets fouled by Sagaba Konate, left bottom, and James Bolden of West Virginia during the 1st half of the East Regionals of the NCAA Tournament at TD Garden on March 23, 2018.
On the other side of the floor, West Virginia consistently ran its offense through Jevon Carter (12 points, 8 assists) and Daxter Miles Jr.
Marvin Bagley scored 22 points and Wendell Carter Jr. had 14 with 12 rebounds for the Blue Devils (29-7), who will face top-seeded Kansas - a rare matchup of bluebloods in a tournament defined by chaos - on Sunday in Omaha.
Villanova was 13 of 24 from beyond the arc, leaving them with 47 3s in the tournament. The Wildcats hit 31 three-pointers over those games, including 17 in the victory over Alabama, when Brunson overcame early foul trouble and helped junior Mikal Bridges spark a second-half blowout to advance to the Sweet 16.
The senior big man tried to wear a brace in Purdue's round of 32 game against Butler, but the NCAA nixed it because the brace had metal in it.
"I'm so proud of our guys' leadership", Villanova coach Jay Wright said afterward. They just fought. And they'll have one more fight in Boston to get to San Antonio, Texas.
Q. This is a question for any of you guys: As veterans coming into this tournament, what's your advice for the younger kids?
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. But West Virginia's vaunted press defense appeared to unnerve the Wildcats, who almost matched their full-game season average by turning the ball over nine times in the first 20 minutes (and who also lost DiVincenzo and star wing Mikal Bridges to foul trouble for most of the first half).
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was close to blowing a gasket.
Then again, Villanova also can wear down an opponent with its depth, speed, shooting and defense. 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.
"I think we got used to the physicality, we got used to the aggressiveness, and we were executing better", Wright said. It doesn't matter who we're playing against. "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. The Mountaineers were whistled for 28 fouls and Villanova committed 20.
The Villanova-West Virginia Sweet 16 game begins at 7:27 p.m. ET. With all the pressure the team puts on their opponents, it is no surprise that they rank 10th in Division I in turnovers forced per game, with an average of 16.5, and second in average turnover margin at +5.2. They handled the Mountaineers' pressure well early.
"If you're in it long enough, it evens out", said Wright, a Council Rock graduate. "They're going to go down as probably - well, not probably - the best four-year backcourt in the history of West Virginia basketball, and that's saying a lot". He figures to make things hard on Brunson, Sporting News' Player of the Year, who comes in having scored only 28 points in the tournament while resting for much of Villanova's two blowouts.
But the Wildcats converted 4-of-5 field goals near the end of the period, including a huge 3-pointer by Paschall off a nice feed from Collin Gillespie to regain the advantage. "And the 3-point shot".
"That just comes from experience", Brunson said.
Carter said the tournament will always mean a lot to both of them. In their first serious test of March Madness so far, Villanova responded like the veteran team it is. "I feel like it's bigger than the National Basketball Association playoffs", he said.