Villanova’s win over Penn on Saturday night was a statistical aberration of sorts. It was one of those rare occasions when the Cats actually built on a first half lead, increasing their 8 point advantage at the half to 13 when the final horn sounded.
As shown in the chart below, of the Cats last 41 games dating back to the beginning of last season, on 27 occasions (two of every three) the Cats either squandered much or all of their first half lead or allowed their opponent to build on their first half advantage. Villanova ultimately lost 17 of those games, ten of which they lead at intermission.
Let’s take a look at what happened in a sample of five of those games.
Feb 18, 2012: 70-74 Loss vs. Notre Dame: The Cats blew a first half lead of 16 points, and lost by 4 points in overtime. Notre Dame tied the score with 1:43 remaining in regulation behind blistering 3-point shooting by Pat Connaughton. ‘Nova built its first half lead by outshooting the Irish with a +13% FG%, but the Irish had the luck in the second half, also with a +13% FG%. The game was lost for the Cats at the perimeter, where the Irish shot a blistering 40% from 3PT range in the second half, scoring 18 points from beyond the arc vs. only one three-pointer on 17% shooting for the Cats. While ‘Nova dominated the boards in the first half (+14 rebounds), the Irish neutralized that advantage in the second half. Nova also had 5 more turnovers than the Irish in the second half.
March 1, 2012: 77-71 Win At Rutgers: It was the same story again. Chris Lane wrote after that game, "In the first half, Villanova looked like a Top-10 team as they cruised to a 16-point halftime lead. Then, Jay Wright sang his halftime lullaby and put his team to sleep. Within 6 minutes, the lead had evaporated to 5 points as Wright switched to his infamous burn offense." After the Cats shot the lights out in the first half with a 69% FG%, including 24 points from 3PT range (80% shooting), their FG% dropped to 27% (a whopping 42% drop-off). Turnovers were the critical factor, with the Cats turning the ball over 12 times in the second half vs. only 4 turnovers for Rutgers.
December 5, 2012: 61-76 Loss vs. Temple: A bright first half had 'Nova fans thinking that an upset over their cross-town rivals Temple was possible, but we saw one of the worst second half performances by the Cats in school history. The Cats played well in the first half, building a 4 point lead. Then the roof fell in, as Villanova could not hit the side of a barn from the field or the charity stripe, while Temple was unconscious, hitting 58% from the field in the period. The Cats turned the ball over 9 times in the second half.
November 18, 2011: 79-69 Win vs. Delaware: The 'Cats took a 38-24 lead into the half, but it was a different story in the 2nd half. With Devon Saddler hitting everything he put up, finishing with 27 points freshman Kyle Anderson leading a 3-point barrage, Delaware closed to within 5 at several different points in the second half. Statistically, the Cat’s played tough defense in the first half, holding Delaware to 34% shooting. It was a different story in the second half, as Delaware shot 47% from the field, and scored 24 points during the period from beyond the arc, shooting 42% from that range.
March 3, 2012: 68-72 Loss vs. Cincinnati: Maalik Wayns had arguably his best game as a Wildcat, pouring in 39 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists. Dominic Cheek was the lone compliment to Wayns' scoring, with 19 points, including 5 threes. Wayns and Cheek led the Nova with a 24-12 run to close the first half and, putting the Cats up 45-40 at intermission. In the second half, Wayns ran out of gas, and Cincy opened up a 5 point advantage. With no one else contributing offensively down the stretch, Cincinnati hit their free throws late to ice the game. Statistically, the Cats’ first have FG% advantage of +17% reversed, as Cincy had a +7% FG% advantage in the second half. But it was the Cats turnovers in the second half that were really did them in, with 11 turnovers in the period vs. only 1 for Cincy. Most of Nova’s turnovers led to easy buckets for the Bearcats.