On a day full of upsets and thrillers, the (2) Villanova Wildcats were trying to avoid an unwelcome surprise amongst the craziness that is the opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament.
After a disappointing first half, the Cats were able successfully avoid a monumental as they defeated the (15) Milwaukee Panthers 73-53 in the Round of 64.
In the first half, the Wildcats just couldn't seem to shake the pesky Panthers, and it seemed as if an upset might be brewing. In the half, ‘Nova never led by more than four points, and at one point in time the Cats actually trailed by five points.
An overall poor team shooting performance initiated the early struggles for Jay Wright and Co. In the first frame, Villanova shot 10/33 from the field and 0/11 from the 3-point line. The cause of the offensive struggles for the Wildcats was evident, and it was the stubbornness of Cats' players to continue to settle for difficult jump shots. The driving lanes seemed to be open whenever they wanted them, yet they passed them up in favor of 3-pointers and contested mid range jump shots.
In the second half, the Wildcats looked like a completely different team. They began the half on a 5-0 run, to extend the lead out to nine points, and they never looked back. Milwaukee was able to come within four, but that's as close as Rob Jeter's squad was able to get, as ‘Nova ended up cruising to a double-digit victory.
While the offense efficiency was a struggle in the first half, the second was a completely different story. The Cats shot 18/29 in the latter half, and improved mightily from 3-point range, where they nailed four of their nin second half attempts.
The entire game, Villanova also did a fantastic job of defending Milwaukee in the half-court, especially leading scorer Jordan Aaron. Jay Wright's crew never allowed Aaron to get into any type of groove on the offensive end, and was forced to launch 30-foot jumpers and contested shots all game. As a result, he shot only 1/15 from the field for six points, and without his production, the Panthers' offense really fell off in the second frame.
On offense for the Cats, it was the same old, same old, as Darrun Hilliard led the Wildcats in scoring once again. Hilliard finished with 16 points in the game, the sixth time in the past seven games in which he has paced the Wildcats' offense.
After Hilliard, four other ‘Nova players finished in double figures. JayVaughn Pinkston had 13 points, as he reached the free throw line seven times, James Bell had 12 despite an 0-8 clip from 3-point range, and Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart both had 11 points each off of the bench.
With the lack of offensive production from Aaron, the rest of the Panthers' players were asked to fill a major hole. Austin Arians was the main contributor in this one, leading Milwaukee with 17 points, including 12 from beyond the arc. Matt Tiby was the only other Panther to reach double figures for Milwaukee, as he picked up 10 points.
With the victory, Villanova picks up its first NCAA Tournament win in four years, and will advance to play former Big East foe UCONN on Saturday in the Round of 32.