Wildcats Defeat Houston to Advance To Final Four, Moore Injured


Courtesy of David J. Phillip/AP Photo

Collin Gillespie holds up two fingers after defeating Houston and advancing to the Final Four.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

SAN ANTONIO — When the final buzzer sounded on Villanova’s 50-44 defeat of No.5 Houston, sending the Wildcats to the Final Four, the players’ celebrations were muted. Jermaine Samuels leaped around, hugging Kevin Voigt. There were a couple hollers, some hugs, but no launching the ball to the rafters, no Kobe Bryant/Doug Edert jumping on press row, no confetti snow angels, no waving goodbye to the crowd.

Collin Gillespie had the ball at the end, dribbling up the floor, and he did yell, at least a little. When the buzzer sounded, Gillespie flipped the ball at the hoop, but immediately after the ball landed, Gillespie made a beeline for the corner of the bench, where his teammate sat in tears. Justin Moore, who had been so good throughout the tournament, had slipped with 35 seconds left, falling to the floor in agony clutching his calf. 

Moore was helped to the bench by his teammates, at first headed for the locker room, before deciding he’d stay, stoically watching on as if he wasn’t in pain. The fact that he wasn’t on the floor told a different story.

In the final seconds, Moore tried to stand. He couldn’t. While the Wildcats celebrated, Moore sat on the bench in tears, knowing that whatever happens next weekend, he likely won’t be able to be a part of it.

“I’ve been in that position before,” Gillespie said of his celebration. “I know what it feels like. … A lot of our guys ran right over to him because we’re not in the position that we are without him. So we just wanted to go over to him and just appreciate what he does for us and know that we got his back.”

The game itself was no instant classic. Villanova struck first, making its first two shots and holding the Cougars to just two points in the opening 7:50. Villanova led through the entirety of the contest, forcing Houston to shoot just 29.8% from the field. The Cougars made just one of their 20 attempts from three, while Villanova shot 28.8% from the field, making five of 21 from beyond the arc.

Villanova led by seven points at halftime and by multiple possessions through most of the game, but with 5:25 remaining, Houston’s Taze Moore hit a layup to bring the Cougars within two. The entirety of an overwhelmingly pro-Houston crowd at the AT&T Center rose to its feet, just as they had after every Houston basket, trying to will the Coogs to a victory. But Gillespie, Villanova’s graduate leader, appeared in the biggest moment as he always does, hitting a floater to lead by four again. It was Gillespie’s only made field goal of the game.

“We couldn’t get Justin or Collin in ball screens. They just took it away,” Wright said. “We couldn’t get Justin and Collin in post-ups. They took it away. It was hard to even get them back door cuts. … They took away our two leading scorers, and other guys had to step up.”

Graduate forward Jermaine Samuels was the leader for the ‘Cats, as he has been all tournament. Samuels scored 16 points and added ten rebounds, and was rewarded by being named the South Region’s Most Outstanding Player after the game. Redshirt senior guard Caleb Daniels was the only other Wildcat in double figures, scoring 12 points despite making just four of his 16 attempts. Daniels was also named to the All-South Region team, alongside Villanova teammates Gillespie and Moore.

Moore had a double-double for the Cougars, scoring 15 points and grabbing ten rebounds, including five on the offensive end. However, Moore scored his 15 points on 21 attempts.

“I don’t think (Moore) took a bad shot all night,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “He just didn’t finish around the basket. … Taze was getting good shots, especially in the paint, transition. Just couldn’t finish.”

While the Wildcats struggled from the field and from three, they were perfect from the line. Villanova attempted 15 free throws in the game, making all 15. Houston attempted 14, making just nine.

With the win, the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four, which will take place next weekend in New Orleans. Villanova will face either No.1 Kansas or No.10 Miami, where in all likelihood, it will have to play without its second leading scorer. After freshman Jordan Longino went down with an injury before the tournament, Villanova’s seven man rotation was cut to six, and with Moore’s injury, that core group was cut to five.

“He’s done so much for this team,” Gillespie said of Moore. “(He) always guards the best player, is one of our best offensive players, and will do anything for any one of our guys on either end of the floor.”

“Things happen. It’s part of the game,” Samuels said. “We were just grateful, I was just grateful to be able to celebrate with these guys, get the victory in a tough environment and be able to do it for him.”

Regardless of the challenges that the ‘Cats will face the rest of the way, as confetti fell in San Antonio, one truth remained: Villanova is going to its third Final Four in the last six editions of the tournament. The ‘Cats are just 80 minutes away from a fourth national championship.

“It feels great, man,” Wright said. “It feels great to be going back to the Final Four. It never gets old. 

“We’re going to enjoy this. Tonight and tomorrow we’re going to enjoy this. We’re going to rest up, and then we’re going to get to work. We get to keep playing. That’s what we enjoy the most.”