The #1 Villanova Wildcats took on the 12th ranked Virginia Cavaliers in a Sunday matinee at the Wells Fargo Center. Coming off their second loss of the season, the ‘Cats looked to get back on track at home.
In front of 20,907, the largest attendance for a college basketball game in Philadelphia, the Wildcats used a furious second half comeback to come away with the 61-59 win.
“Just an unbelievable college basketball game. We have so much respect for their team and their program. We were looking forward to this game, we just knew we’d be tested. Win or lose, we knew we were going to come out of here learning a lot,” said Coach Jay Wright.
The Cavaliers defense allowed only two Jalen Brunson free throws in the first four minutes, and started the game holding a 7-2 lead. This would be the theme for the game, as Villanova went 20-24 from the line compared to only 3-3 for the Cavaliers.
Brunson ended with 15 points on 3-4 shooting, but 9-10 from the line, and added in 4 assist.
Virginia expanded their lead to 10-2 after a Darius Thompson three, but the ‘Cats responded with their first field goal of the game, a Eric Paschall dunk. Mikal Bridges got a steal and layup courtesy of the 1-2-2 press, and UVA lead 10-8.
Paschall picked up his 2nd foul with just under 10 minutes left in the half but remained in the game. Freshman Ty Jerome hit two three’s and Virginia’s lead was back up to 18-12.
A quick 7-0 run for Virginia made the score 22-12 in favor of the Cavaliers forcing Jay Wright to call a timeout with 6:40 left in the first half.
Eric Paschall picked up his third foul with 2:19 left and sat the rest of the half. Jerome hit his third three of the half, giving him 9, and Villanova went into the half trailing 31-22.
Brunson led the ‘Cats in scoring with 9 on 7-8 shooting from the foul line. Villanova was 4-22 (18.2%) from the field and 1-10 (10%) from three, but went 13-14 (92.9%) from the foul line, keeping them in the game. In the first half alone, seniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins went a combined 0-13.
Jay Wright was happy with their effort despite not shooting well, “It’s something that great leaders do. I was so proud of those two. Virginia had an outstanding game plan. They forced those two [Jenkins and Hart] to make plays for other people. Those two just brought their leadership to another level, their defense to another level.”
The Cavaliers were led by Ty Jerome with 9 points on 3-4 shooting from deep. Virginia shot 46.2% from the field, and 40% from deep. The 22 points they held the ‘Cats to was the lowest they have scored in a half all season.
Virginia’s lead grew to 38-27 after five straight points from Marial Shayok, but Josh Hart free throws and a three from Mikal Bridges cut the lead to just six.
A 7-0 run put Virginia up 45-32 but Bridges did all he could to keep the ‘Cats in the game, scoring nine consecutive points for Villanova and the score was 47-37 UVA with 11 minutes left.
Bridges finished with 15 points (6-9), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
Josh Hart hit his first three of the game, followed by Jenkins first three to cut the Virginia lead to just 49-45 with seven minutes left. Jenkins hit his second three out of the timeout and ‘Nova was only down one.
The ‘Cats held Virginia without a field goal for four and a half minutes and two Jalen Brunson free throws gave Villanova their first lead since it was 2-0. Hart hit another three with four minutes left and the ‘Cats were back up 54-53.
London Perrantes responded with a layup but on the next possession Donte DiVincenzo made one of two from the line and tied it at 55.
Villanova did a good job slowing down Perrantes, who scored 3 points on 2-11 shooting but dished out 6 assists.
Brunson hit a layup with 35 seconds left to give the ‘Cats a two point lead but Jerome responded with one of his own and Villanova had 11.5 seconds to win it.
Jerome led Virginia in scoring with 15 points shooting 3-6 from deep. Shayok contributed 14 points on 6-12 shooting.
DiVincenzo tipped in a Josh Hart layup at the buzzer, and the ‘Cats escaped with a 61-59 win.
DiVincenzo played 19 minutes and that was his only field goal of the game, finishing with 3 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. The only other guy to come off of the bench for ‘Nova, Eric Paschall, also played 19 minutes.
“They played 19 minutes, I got to play them more minutes. One of my weaknesses is, when you get older in this program, I’m so comfortable with those guys out there, I stick with them. Too many minutes I played Josh, too many minutes I played Kris, too many minutes I played Mikal, I don’t have to,” Wright said about spreading the minutes out.
After going 1-10 from deep in the first half, the ‘Cats went 6-6 in the second half, adding up to 7-16 (43.8%). Virginia ended the game shooting 50% from the field, but 6-18 from three (33.3%).
Villanova improves to 20-2 on the season with the victory and returns to action on Wednesday at Providence.