The Wildcats threatened to come back for a while in the second half, but didn't have the offensive fire-power to win in a defensive battle with the USF Bulls. For the fourth-straight time, Villanova lost to the Bulls and the second time in the Big East tournament. The game was close with just a 9-point margin of victory.
"We were down 10 at halftime, and down 10 to them is like down 20, 25 to somebody else because of the way they control the tempo and the way Collins just controls the game," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
USF played smothering defense, denying Maalik Wayns access to the lane and forcing the Wildcats to take difficult jump shots.
"We did get some good looks, but part of it is they kind of sucker you into settling for jump shots," Wright explained. "I thought early in the game we just settled for jumpers. We didn't get the ball inside, we didn't drive the ball, and therefore they were shooting free throws the whole first half and we were shooting jumpers."
"Anthony [Collins] did a fantastic job just staying in front of him and not allowing him to get to the basket or get some clean looks, and as time went on, we were able to switch and put Hugh Robertson, a little bit longer defender on him as well," USF coach Stan Heath explained. " We had kind of two fresh guys out there that were doing a good job staying with him."
"When you've got a guy like Ryan Anderson in the back calling out screens and helping and helper and things ilk that, I think that really helps our defense."
"They're real long," Wayns said. " They just keep you in front of them and clog the paint and there's no driving lane, so they force you into taking jump shots."
Villanova was down by as much as 13 points with 11:58 left in the first half, but got the lead down to 10 points by the half. In the second half, they chipped the lead down to five by the 11:39 mark and kept the score close the rest of the way, but never lower than 5 points again, as Villanova missed big shots, free-throws and USF got defensive stops.
"I think we have great confidence in our defense," USF forward Victor Rudd, Jr. said. " We've been in games where he have to defend when we were up by one point and we had to get a stop to win the game. We rely on our defense for a lot of things, and it came through for us."
With the Maalik Wayns mostly held in check, Villanova leaned on Mouph Yarou to score inside. Grabbing high inlet passes from the wing, Yarou often had to contend with a double-team inside before he could score a bucket. Yarou scored 20 points in the game, on 8-of-13 shooting and went 3-of-5 from the free-throw line.
Yarou also connected on an NBA-range 3-pointer late in the game. It was his first triple of the season.
"Mouph has been outstanding," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "The last third of the season here for us, just outstanding."
Villanova was awful on the boards, however, and Yarou only managed to grab 2 rebounds in the game and didn't record anything on the offensive glass. Maurice Sutton lead the team with 5 rebounds, but spent most of the game in foul trouble.
"They know how to play," Yarou said of the USF big men, Augustus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson, Jr. "They keep me off the offensive glass, and they make me work on the defensive glass. I think they did a great job. It was tough. It was really tough."
Villanova did get a few good looks during the game, but even then, Villanova would shoot off the mark.
"I got my shot," Wayns admitted. "I didn't hit it today. Unfortunately this is the tournament, you have a bad day, you go home."
Jay Wright wasn't happy with the outcome, but praised his team for playing hard in a game rather than quitting when they were behind big.
"Our guys never quit, they've never quit all year," he said. "They've played until the last second."
South Florida moves on to the Big East quarterfinals for the first time in school history and will face Notre Dame tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. on ESPN. You might need to take your NoDoz to make it through that one as well.
"They're going to run the burn tomorrow and it's going to be first team to thirty," Heath joked.
In the early games:
- #9 Connecticut defeated #8 West Virginia 71-67, and will advance to play #1 Syracuse tomorrow at Noon on ESPN
- #5 Georgetown defeated #13 Pittsburgh 64-52, and will play #4 Cincinnati tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN
- #7 Louisville defeated #10 Seton Hall 61-55, and will play #2 Marquette tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN