Villanova played close against Cincinnati just like they did in the first meeting this season, but ultimately lost the game by 4 points — just like the first meeting. The Bearcats got a helpful 72-68 win, pushing Villanova's record to 12-18 on the season and 5-13 in the Big East. The lone bright spot was Maalik Wayns, who scored 26 points and passed two former Villanova stars on the all-time scoring list during the contest, Malik Allen in the first half and Jim Washington in the second. Wayns now sits at 47th on that list.
"I've always been a fan of Maalik and I guess if someone had to pass me, it might as well be another Malik," joked Maalik Allen at halftime. "I'm happy for him, he put in a lot of work, he's a great kid and I wish him the best. He's a great great kid most importantly and a very good basketball player too."
Wayns also spoke about Allen after the game.
"Its an honor," Wayns said of being mentioned along with Allen and Washington. "Malik Allen is a guy I look up to. He comes in here all the time, he practiced with us before his season started in the summertime and he's a real great guy all-around. I look up to him and I'm honored to be in the same conversation as him."
Cincinnati had never won at the Pavilion in three attempts since joining the Big East prior to today. They have never played at the Wells Fargo Center, a fact that was not lost on their coach.
"Whats the downtown arena?" Mick Cronin asked a reporter.
"Is it a nice place?" he followed up. "I was just wondering, we’ve never played in Wells Fargo Arena, I was wondering how nice it was. I’d be nice to play there one day."
The lead changed 5 times and the score was tied the same amount in the game. The 'Cats made some mental mistakes late, however, that allowed Cincinnati to take and keep control at the end.
"I was disappointed in the way we came out and started the game," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I don’t know if coming back at 1:30 in the morning on Thursday and then playing at 2:00 affected us or not — it shouldn’t. If you have a mature team, it shouldn’t affect you, but something affected us.
"We just didn’t come out with the proper energy to play the game, and you have to give Cincinnati credit, they came out here and needed a win."
Wright also wasn't impressed with his team's play in end-of-game situations. The Wildcats not only came out slow, but made fatal errors down the stretch.
"We’re not young, but we’re inexperienced," Wright said about errors like Sutton’s fumbled rebound late in the second half.
"He’s not in end of games a lot, he’s not been a starter. You’d like to see somebody more prepared for that, but he gives good effort you know, he did a good job. Experienced guys know that that’s where you have to buckle down and make the play."
Maalik Wayns did his best to keep his team on track down the stretch, driving to the basket and scoring 16 points in the second half, including a crucial and-1 basket with 6 minutes left that brought the 'Cats within 2 points. Mouph Yarou would grab a defensive rebound on the next Cincy shot and Markus Kennedy tied things up at 58 each with 5:36 left to play.
That would be the last time the score was even in the game.
With three minutes left, the Cincinnati lead was back to 6 points, but a pair of free throws by Sutton brought the 'Cats back within 4 with two and a half minutes to go. Villanova seemed ready for an upset when Wayns drilled a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left on the clock to close within 2 points, but time was not on the Wildcats' side.
Villanova called a time-out after that shot, but needed the ball back quickly. As the Bearcats seemed content to run out the clock, Villanova ultimately began to foul them intentionally. Cincinnati made 5-of-6 from the charity stripe in the last 40 seconds to buy themselves a victory.
"I’m very disappointed but it’s been part of this year, we just have not been consistent," Wright said of the loss. "You have a great effort Thursday night and you can say we’re a little bit tired, a little bit banged up — [Pinkston] was very sore from Thursday night’s game, wasn’t great in Thursday night’s game physically — but they’ve got guys banged up, they’ve got guys sore, and they played the night before and they had to travel.
"Its just what our team has not been able to learn yet. We’re going to battle to the last minute and try to teach and learn that."
In addition to scoring, Wayns also passed the ball well today, dishing out 5 assists. JayVaughn Pinkston and James Bell also contributed in the passing game despite not having big impacts on the scoreboard, notching 4 and 3 assists respectively.
Yarou helped offensively with 16 points (4-of-6 from the free-throw line) and grabbed 3 offensive boards out of 7 total. Dominic Cheek also contributed 10 points for the Wildcats, but shot just 28.6% from beyond the arc.
Wayns connected on 5-of-9 (55.6%) from deep and 9-of-16 (56.3%) from the floor in a nice shooting performance.
"We don't try to guard him, we gave up on that." Cronin said about Wayns. "We played zone because we didn't think we could guard him."
Yancy Gates lead the way for Cincinnati with 16 points and 9 rebounds, including 5 offensive rebounds. Dion Dixon scored 14 points on 3-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Sean Kilpatrick scored 13 points, had 3 assists and grabbed 4 rebounds and JaQuon Parker added 11 points and 4 rebounds.
"Gates killed us on the offensive glass and their guards just dominated the game, they got into the lane any time they wanted," Wright said. "Our guards just couldn’t get in the lane, we had trouble making passes inside. They’ve got great guards and that’s what usually wins in college basketball. Gates is good, but those guards make him good."
Justin Jackson started for Cincinnati at the point because Cronin wanted to limit the minutes of his star guard, Cashmere Wright. They finished with 6 points and 9 points respectively and Wright lead the game in assists with 6.
Cincy's guards went shot just 31.8% from the perimeter — including just 27.3% in the first half — but made the shots that counted.
"They shoot 7-for-22 from 3, but when the game is on the line, they stick the 3, that’s the difference between an experienced team and an inexperienced team."
Despite Villanova's struggles, Jay Wright still believes that his team has improved over the course of the season. He refused to concede that there is nothing left to do.
"I feel like we’ve improved. I really feel like the injuries have hurt peoples’ improvement," Wright explained. "You know, James Bell, his injury I said was the most severe, JayVaughn’s is the most recent, so both of those guys were about 50% out there and I think that some of the injuries have slowed peoples’ development.
"I think Mouph has improved a lot, I think Maalik has really become a great leader for us. Mo Sutton has improved. They’re just not good enough to be a great team in the Big East yet, but we’re going to keep getting better, we’re not going to stop. This whole group is coming back and we’ll see how good we can be."
Villanova is playing for next year, but there is at least one more game left this season. Villanova will take on the winner of tonight's match-up between St. John's and Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey on Tuesday night. Villanova's loss assured that they will be the 14th seed in the Big East tournament and will play the 11-seed at 9:00 pm at Madison Square Garden.
Today's loss was the 18th of the season for Villanova, who have never lost 20 games in a season in program history. A loss in the Big East tournament would be their 19th, and a 20th-loss remains possible as the 'Cats will seek out a bid to the CBI tournament if they are eliminated at Madison Square Garden.