"This game came down to our two seniors to understand how good a team Asheville is. They know if you don't bring 100%, you'll be beat."
`Nova jumped out to a quick 6-0 thanks to three pointers by Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson. The Bulldogs cut that lead down to 3 after Dylan Smith's three.
More threes a little later as Kris Jenkins extended the Wildcat lead to 15-7, but Asheville went on a fast 5-0 run to yet again bring the game to within three points. UNCA would stay at 12 points for a while as they went on a 5:43 scoreless streak. Unfortunately in that time `Nova was only able to score 6 points in that time and they held a 21-12 lead with 8:47 to go in the first half.
The Bulldogs broke out of their slump with a basket by Ahmad Thomas. It was the Wildcats' turn to go cold as they went 2 for their next 10 from the floor, and let UNCA get back to within one possession.
With 3:18 to go in the first half, UNC-Asheville's Dwayne Sutton converted on a layup. Down 28-24, his team called timeout. To close the half the `Cats went on a 12-2 run, all on three pointers by Mikal Bridges, Ryan Arcidiacono and Brunson. To beat the buzzer, Arch hit an off-balance three. The Wildcats took a 40-26 lead into the break.
"We started being aggressive on the zone," Ryan said on the turnaround before the half ended. "With their 1-3-1 you can't be passive. We were able to get into the lane and kick it out."
`Nova was efficient on the floor, shooting 46.9% from the field and assisting on 12 of their 15 field goals. They shot 7-17 from beyond the arc, with most of those makes in that late run. The Bulldogs committed 10 turnovers compared to `Nova's 5.
The second half began with equal Wildcat success, with Ochefu getting more involved in the paint. He scored 6 points before the first TV timeout (he had just 5 in 14 minutes of play in the first half) and was the first Wildcat in double-figures. Villanova converted on 5 of their first 6 field goals of the latter half.
Daniel attributes his much better second half to getting over a mental block: "The ankle was not bothering me, I think it was all mental. But once I started going it eliminated it all and I started playing Villanova basketball."
The Bulldogs shot well to start the half too. They were 7-14 with 5 assists but personal fouls became their demise. With 13 minutes to play Admad Thomas picked up his 4th. Thomas lead his team with 7 rebounds before he took a long break on the bench. The Wildcats did a great job limiting personal fouls on the day.
At the second TV timeout of the half, the Wildcats lead 57-41. The scoring was balanced for the Wildcats with five different players with 8+ points, lead by Ochefu's 13.
The Wildcats put the game away midway through the second half. UNCA went on an over four minute scoreless streak, and the Wildcats went on an 11-0 run within that span. The lead stood at 71-41.
The lead would stay as such for the rest of the game as Asheville would continue to struggle from the floor, later going on a 2-17 cold streak. This went along with a 3:12 long cold snap for Villanova.
The Bench Mob even got time on the court today! Henry Lowe, Patrick Farrell and Kevin Rafferty all entered the game with two minutes to go in the game. The crowd went NUTS when Farrell hit a three with under a minute to go.
On playing in his first NCAA Tournament, Brunson gave credit to the upperclassmen for preparing him. "They told me to just be ready for the intensity and the crowd but to not be distracted, play your game and don't go outside yourself." The freshman finished with 10 points on 4-7 shooting, along with 3 boards and 3 assists.
Villanova hits the 30-win mark for the second straight season and the third time in school history.