Playing “Villanova Basketball” Key to Wildcats’ Success in NCAA Tournament


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Eric Dixon drills a dagger triple to put the ‘Cats up 8 with under two minutes to play.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

PITTSBURGH — For the majority of Sunday’s game, Villanova controlled all aspects of the matchup, but the pillars of “Villanova Basketball” shined brightest in the final five minutes. Ohio State was on a 15-5 run and had cut a once 15-point lead down to two, but the Wildcats were not fazed, trusting in their game plan and each other. 

“I think we just continued to do what we did the entire game,” Villanova graduate guard Collin Gillespie said of the defensive mindset. “They had a stretch where they were hitting shot after shot, and we just said ‘attitude’, stuck together and came together on the defensive end. And told each other, ‘let’s get this next stop, let’s get this next stop’ and tried to make the next play.” 

“Attitude”, a motto displayed throughout Villanova’s facilities, is not just a slogan, but rather a mindset that carries them in moments like Sunday’s game. With 5:04 on the clock, leading 60-58, the Wildcats came to their bench for a timeout while every member of the roster and coaching staff handed out high fives and repeated “Attitude”. They were not concerned about Ohio State finally finding its footing or any calls that didn’t go their way. They were focused on themselves. 

Over the next three minutes, the ‘Cats would go on a 7-1 run, capped off by a three from redshirt sophomore forward Eric Dixon, to extend the lead back to eight with under two minutes to play. The Dixon triple was big in the obvious way that it grew Villanova’s lead, but more importantly, it showed the team mentality that Villanova constantly plays with. 

The assist on Dixon’s three came from none other than Big East Player of the Year Gillespie, who led the team with 20 points and had his own scoring options on the play. As a veteran leader, Gillespie made the read and ultimately recognized that Dixon had the best option. 

“That’s something we work on all the time,” Gillespie said. “They were playing Justin pretty tight on that side and their big was in the lane and Eric was wide open and I have tons of confidence in him to step in and knock any shot down that he’s going to take.”

This confidence is contagious and breeds trust among the entire roster, leading to games like Sunday’s where four Wildcats score in double figures while players like senior Brandon Slater can finish with zero points and still impact the game on the defensive end. 

The ‘Cats know that to advance further and have a chance to win a National Championship, they have to stick to the principles of “Villanova Basketball”, an idea best described by Dixon in a mid-season interview. 

“It’s playing hard, together, smart, with pride. […] So when it’s nasty and it’s loose balls everywhere and we’re diving on the floor and we’re not making shots, when things are rough, we love that. That’s what we prepare for.”