In the quarterfinals of the 2013 Big East Tournament, the Louisville Cardinals showed why they were the bookmaker's choice for tournament champions in a dominating performance over the Villanova Wildcats at Madison Square Garden.
Both teams opened the game with sloppy play. Villanova was clearly playing on tired legs from the night before, while Louisville had to work through a bit of rust from the double-bye they received as the #2 seed in the conference. In the opening 10 minutes, the teams combined for 17 turnovers. Former President Bill Clinton, on hand for the game, must have not been impressed.
Despite having faced a similar, up-tempo style of play the night before in their victory against St. John's, Villanova appeared very under-prepared for the brand of pressure Louisville was bringing, leading to several unforced errors. Darrun Hilliard especially was off the pace for most of the evening, which Louisville consistently exploited by trapping the sophomore and forcing him into mistakes.
Also not helping matters was Ryan Arcidiacono's struggles from the field, as the freshman posted a 1-8 evening and struggled to make an impact on the offensive end, though his defensive ability helped keep Villanova relevant at times.
Incredibly at the half, Louisville only held a 9 point lead as Villanova struggled to get off shots against the Cardinals' defense. Louisville's own struggles on the offensive end kept the Wildcats firmly in the game.
The second half began to show the difference in talent between the teams. Louisville began to up the pace of the game again as Peyton Siva (10 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) and Russ Smith (28 points, 2 assists, 2 steals) both began to heat up from the outside. The pair of guards consistently found a way to break down the Villanova defense and kick it out for open looks. The Cardinals would finish the game a sterling 10-24 (42%) from downtown.
For Villanova, the game was a stark reminder of just how sharp they'll need to play in the NCAA Tournament if they are to avoid a quick exit. There were positives, however. Mouphtaou Yarou chipped in yet another double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) as he continued his solid play, and JayVaughn Pinkston once again performed very well in his hometown with 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. And as it has been for most of the season, the Wildcats' interior defense was stellar once again.
Even more encouraging was the heart Villanova showed, playing hard to the end and never giving up, even when faced with deficits greater than 20 points. The attitude that this relatively young group showed will be a huge bonus in the coming seasons as they mature.
On the whole though, the Wildcats were rarely in this game. The things they needed to do well didn't happen as they turned it over 25 times and shot an abysmal 2-12 from beyond the arc. As we've seen many times this year, it is hard for Jay Wright's team to be competitive, especially against the country's elite, when those two things don't go well.
Now it's time for 'Nova Nation to turn their attention to Selection Sunday. The latest Bracketology projections have the Wildcats on the 10-11 seed line, and a 1-1 performance in New York City certainly won't hurt that projection.
On to the NCAA Tournament!