The Villanova Wildcats have a team-wide philosophy. Some call it live and die by the three, but for the ‘Cats, it’s “shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets.”
”If you keep missing--if you’re open--keep shooting the ball,” Villanova forward Mikal Bridges said. “We have confidence in ourselves and missing shots don’t really affect us, so that’s what we do--keep shooting, no matter what happens.”
Although they held the lead at the half, the Wildcats sprinted ahead until the game was out of reach, thanks to their hot hand in the second half. The Wildcats were 11-of-17 from long range over the final 20 minutes of the game and at one point made five-straight threes. The dominant shooting performance paved the way for a one-sided finish, as the second-seeded Wildcats won, 94-70, to advance past the seventh-seeded Golden Eagles.
”I’m glad we do shoot well in this building,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said, after the Wildcats’ hot second half. “I love this building, but I don’t help the shots but thank God they do, because when you play in this building, they’re always big games. So, I think the guys do get excited about playing here, and we did shoot it well tonight.”
Early in the game, the Golden Eagles were hanging with the Wildcats, even taking the lead at some moments. With less than nine minutes left in the first half, Marquette guard Andrew Rowsey got a tough step-back jumper to drop. While he and teammate Markus Howard had the hot hand to start, the Golden Eagles trailed ‘Nova, 41-34, going into halftime. Rowsey and Howard combined for 30 of their team’s 34 first half points.
Rowsey and Howard got into a groove early, pulling up from all over the floor. The Wildcats didn’t have the same fortune from long range to start, but they readjusted by working inside-out. The change worked out for the best, as the Wildcats grinded ahead and took the lead going into the break.
”We didn’t look loose,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We didn’t look comfortable, so we said let’s try to get some movement, get to the basket. I thought Mikal did a great job of that early. Eric Paschall did, too.”
Once the second half began, the Wildcats saw the three-point line open up. Smooth ball movement and a shooting stroke that would not slow down led the way to a series of Villanova runs to get ahead.
The Wildcats used a 12-0 run to push the lead into double figures and hardly looked back from there. Villanova continued to pile on three-pointers, until its lead was in the twenties.
Marquette tried man-to-man defense, zone, as well as a press, and the Wildcats patiently worked the ball around to an open man for the high-quality look.
”It’s a credit to their offensive power and their ability to shoot,” Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “We had a hard time containing them off the dribble, and then when we tried to switch it up, they got three-point shots. They shot the eyes out of the ball.”
Villanova’s shooting was a complete turnaround from its lackluster 4-of-12 performance from long range.
Bridges led the ‘Cats with 25 points--off of 7-of-12 shooting--and eight rebounds. Jalen Brunson added 21 points off 8-of-13 shooting. Phil Booth chipped in 15 points, and Eric Paschall had 13.
For Marquette, Howard scored a team-high 23 points before checking out of the game with less than five minutes left due to an apparent shoulder injury.
”I was coming off a down screen, and I collided with one of their players, and I heard my shoulder pop,” Howard said. “...Right now, it’s pretty sore, but I’m going to follow up with what [the trainers] tell me to do.”
Rowsey contributed 22 points.
With the victory, Jay Wright now has 414 career wins as the Wildcats’ head coach, making him the winningest Villanova coach ever. He passed Al Severance’s mark of 413 victories.
”I’m mostly proud to be the coach of Villanova,” Wright said. “The wins don’t matter, but I know I’ll look back at it later.”
As for Marquette, it drops to 19-13 overall and hopes to be dancing later this month.
”I believe we’re an NCAA Tournament team, but that’s not something I get to decide on,” Wojciechowski said. “I think our team has had a really good year, especially considering our youth, and I think we’ve had a really good year...but that’s for somebody else to decide.”