Hoyas end ‘Cats’ Big East hopes

Kyle Scudilla

Jonathan Wallace buried the Villanova Wildcats for the second time this season – although no referee’s whistle could have changed the fate of Thursday afternoon’s Big East quarterfinal.

Behind a tournament-record 17 3-pointers, Georgetown blew out Villanova, 82-63, to all but end the Wildcats’ hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats (20-12) are likely headed to the NIT.

“We’re an NCAA tournament team, but that’s not our decision,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “We’ll let the committee make their decision, and we’ll accept whatever they do.”

The Hoyas (25-5) – known throughout the Big East for their top-ranked defense – caught fire from the perimeter early and never let up. Georgetown made 17 of its 28 3-point tries (61 percent), tying West Virginia’s Big East Championship mark of made 3-point field goals set last year against Providence.

Wallace, whose free throws were the deciding two points in Villanova’s heartbreaking and controversial loss on Feb. 11, ran a drive-and-kick offensive strategy that didn’t cease to produce. Wallace dominated the flow of the game early with his playmaking and, most notably, his blazing-hot shooting. He buried five 3-pointers before halftime for a game-high 19 points before the break and finished the afternoon with 20.

Georgetown held a 40-29 advantage at the half, but despite trailing by double digits and shooting just 30 percent (6-for-20), Wright said he was not worried. A day earlier, Villanova rebounded from a sluggish first half to rout Syracuse.

“We didn’t feel bad at halftime, believe it or not,” he said. “We’re down 11. But we were getting the ball inside. We thought we kind of established and were taking the ball aggressively and getting to the foul line. We felt good about it.”

The Wildcats made another red-hot run immediately following the break. Scottie Reynolds knocked down a 3, and Dwayne Anderson, who failed to score in the first half, knocked down two 3s and converted an and-one in the first 5 minutes of the second half. These performances helped to fuel an 11-0 run that tied the score before Georgetown had a chance to blink.

A pair of free throws by Dante Cunningham with 13:41 to go in the half gave Villanova its first lead of the afternoon, 45-43. The Wildcats extended their run to as much as 18-3 and seemed to once again shake the offensive ineffectiveness that plagued them in the postseason.

But Georgetown validated its status as Big East regular-season champ by getting off the mat. Georgetown quickly surmounted the small Villanova lead and started pulling away midway through the second half. Reynolds, who suffered a cut above his right eye that left blood streaming down the right side of his face in the first half, had to be removed from the game with Georgetown leading 51-50 so that the training staff could attend to additional bleeding on his face.

Then the Hoyas went to work. As ‘Nova’s hot shooting cooled down, Georgetown’s heated up, as Wallace’s backcourt mate Jessie Sapp and forward DaJuan Summers picked up the scoring slack. Sapp hit two 3-pointers during an 11-0 Georgetown run that created a gap too wide for Villanova to challenge.

“As always, we just said let’s stay focused,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said. “Let’s stay together, and we were able to slowly, methodically pull away as we do.”

Summers then converted two 3-pointers and an and-one late in the half to turn the game into a cakewalk for Georgetown, which will play the winner of Thursday’s West Viriginia-Connecticut quarterfinal matchup on Friday.

Georgetown’s more experienced squad consistently found the open man, and the Hoyas shooters did not miss too many opportunities. In all, the Hoyas racked up 25 assists on its 28 field goals.

“I think they really attacked our pressure to get 3s,” Wright said. “They started the game that way. That’s a very confident mentality. They kicked it up, didn’t go to the basket, reserved it and just shot 3s.”

Georgetown’s incredibly high assist-to-field goal ratio was not the only interesting stat. Roy Hibbert, a unanimous selection to the All-Big East First Team, was held scoreless, fouling out after playing just 14 minutes.

“We let everybody else make 3s so he couldn’t score,” Wright said. “That wasn’t the plan though.”

The Wildcats, who had plenty of reasons to feel slighted by the officiating the last time these two teams met, with a questionable foul call on Corey Stokes allowing Wallace to decide the game from the charity stripe, Villanova actually still got a significant edge in free-throw shooting. The Wildcats had 28 attempts from the foul line, compared to just 13 by the Hoyas, and made nine more free throws than Georgetown did but still lost by 19. Georgetown did not attempt a free throw until the second half.

“Honestly, looking at this stat sheet from their standpoint and from our standpoint, there is a whole lot that you say, if you told me this would happen, if you told me that would happen, we wouldn’t be sitting here,” Thompson said. “So that’s why you’ve got to play the game.”

Now Villanova can only hope that the tournament selection committee finds something on its tournament resumé that makes it stand out from the other teams currently on the NCAA bubble.

“I would just say that if you look at the top 65 teams, if you’re going to pick the best 65 teams, you’re not going to worry about how many come from a conference, how many mid-majors,” Wright said. “And you just look at teams that we’ve beaten and how we’ve played everybody, everybody that we’ve played. That I think we’re one of the best 65 teams. I really believe that.”

Wright said on Wednesday that Syracuse was an NCAA tournament team. Following Thursday’s game, Thompson extended the same courtesy to his defeated opponent.

“You can sit, and everyone has an opinion, and I guess that’s people’s jobs, but if you’re going to pick the best teams to be in the tournament, they’re one of them,” Thompson said. “If you’re going to pick the best team to get an at-large bid, they’re one of them, and I know that just based on going through this league. This league is brutal.”

But Wright also knows that his young bunch may be handed the same fate as Syracuse, which had its bubble burst on Wednesday. Wright, whose Wildcats have qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the last three seasons, is just interested in continuing to coach his team no matter who, and in what postseason tournament, it will be playing.

“I think these three days are going to be good for this team, believe it or not, I really do,” Wright said. “I think we’re going to rest up. We’re excited about playing together more. That’s how we’re going to look at it.”