Nobody could have predicted a finish like this. Villanova leads the league in turnovers per game, and Louisville forces the 2nd most turnovers in the country. On paper, it was a blowout. On Tuesday night, Villanova battled Louisville for 40 minutes and came away with their first victory, 73-64, against a top 5 team while being unranked since they beat #2 Kansas in 2005.
What do you say about a game like this? You could talk about Louisville missing 11 free throws in the second half. You could talk about 5 Villanova players scoring double digits. Or about 20 points off the bench compared to Louisville’s 9. Or, you could simply talk about a young squad coming together and persevering through enormous pressure, physical and metaphorical.
Louisville pressured the backcourt like a pack of junkyard dogs. They were unrelenting, and, at times, they seemed poised to breakout to a 10 or 15-point advantage off of Villanova turnovers. But it never came. Louisville’s biggest lead of the night would be 6.
"I joke about this, but I’m serious about this: Turnovers don’t bother us," Wright explained. "If you’re a team that doesn’t turn the ball over and Louisville turns you over, it could freak you out. We’re just so used to it, we don’t worry about it."
The turning point came with about 6 minutes left in the 2nd half. Darrun Hilliard converted a fast break "And-1" layup. Mouph hits an almost 3-pointer, and on the next possession, Daniel Ochefu tipped in a transition 3-point attempt from Ryan Arch.
Louisville’s collapse in the waning minutes was simply baffling. Missed free throw after missed free throw gave Villanova the window it needed to believe it had a shot at toppling a top 5 team 8 years to the day that they beat Kansas.
For many Villanova fans, a stellar first half of basketball from this squad was nothing to get too excited about. The ‘Cats had proven time and time again they couldn’t play a full 40 minutes, especially not against a tough team like Louisville. "Unsustainable," many said. And while it’s true that they couldn’t sustain a 67% 3 point shooting clip, they tightened up their play when needed.
Ryan Arcidiacono poured in a team high 15 points. Jayvaughn Pinkston grabbed 6 boards and scored 11 points. More than that, though, is the group effort on the glass. Every player except Mislav had at least two rebounds. Villanova finished the game shooting 45.8 percent from the floor.
"The freshman need to see some success in order to break through. I’m so proud of how Ryan has handled everything," Jay Wright said. "It’s really great to see them get some rewards for their work."
"I had no doubts that we were going to win this game," Ryan Arch said. "We just have to finish out possessions, and I think we did that tonight."