The quest for back-to-back champs marches on.
After entering the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, the Villanova Wildcats’ season could not get through the first weekend. The Wildcats’ season came to an end on Saturday in Buffalo as the eight-seed Wisconsin Badgers took them down 65-62.
‘Nova saw themselves up 57-50 at the 5:31 mark of the game. Big buckets by Wisconsin’s dynamic duo of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, two of the most accomplished players the Badger program has quite frankly ever seen, tied the game up by the 3:27 mark.
It would be Koenig and Hayes who’d come up large a few moments later. A big triple from Bronson lifted the Badgers up 62-59, and after the Wildcats answered to tie the game, Hayes cruised to the cup and knocked down what would be the game-winning bucket. A last gasp for ‘Nova would be denied thanks to stellar defense by Wisconsin in the final sequence, and as a result, the ‘Cats saw their repeat chances go up in smoke.
Hayes’ 19 points and Koenig’s 17 were 1 and 2 on the Badgers. Ethan Happ, even with foul trouble dooming him a bit, managed to drop 12 of his own while Vitto Brown had 10 points including a free throw that helped seal the deal.
Finding the reasons for this loss is a pretty simple task. Simply put, ‘Nova seeing their lead crumble within a two-minute span was nothing if not avoidable. Although they shot 15-for-21 from the free throw line, missed opportunities at the stripe doomed them as they only made three of their final six attempts.
Additionally, they simply couldn’t get what they wanted from their best players. Josh Hart did lead the charge with 19 points. Donte DiVincenzo kept up his spirited play, dropping 15 with crucial buckets down the stretch. But the remaining contributions left a lot to be desired. Jalen Brunson put up 11, but did so on 11 shots. Kris Jenkins’ stint in this NCAA Tournament was not as spectacular as his last as he finished with six points and went 2-for-9 after a less-than-stellar showing against The Mount. Mikal Bridges didn’t record a single point and Darryl Reynolds was limited to just two.
So it goes. Villanova’s season is over, and Hart, Reynolds and Jenkins are headed off to other endeavors. The Wildcats should be loaded again next year to go for their fifth-straight Big East championship, but the taste is a bit sour on this Saturday afternoon to say the least for the folks on The Main Line.