Wildcats stunned by badgers



Dave Jarman


BUFFALO, N.Y. – With five minutes to play in the game, Villanova had a seven-point lead over Wisconsin, 57-50, and seemed to be in control of advancing to the Sweet 16 for two consecutive years. But in those last five minutes, all that could go wrong did go wrong.

The Badgers went on a 15-5 run in the remaining minutes of the game and made the necessary plays and defensive stops to defeat the defending National Champions 65-62 on Saturday afternoon.

Two daggers were made behind the arc by Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig including the go-ahead three to put the Badgers ahead 62-59 with two minutes remaining. After Jalen Brunson’s lay up and Donte DiVincenzo’s one of two made free throws tied the game at 62, Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes drove on the right baseline past Mikal Bridges and made a tough reverse lay-up to put Wisconsin up 64-62 with 12 seconds left.

After Josh Hart dribbled the ball the length of the court and missed a left handed lay-up, Wisconsin forward Vito Brown made the 65th and final point for the Badgers who are advancing to their fourth straight Sweet 16.    

Post-game, Villanova head coach Jay Wright was a bit emotional as his Wildcats were “stunned” by the Badgers.  

“This one is more stunning to these guys than crushing,” said Wright. “I think it’s going to hit us all – and me included. Until the last second of that game, I thought we had a chance to win, so I wasn’t thinking about this or dealing with this. I don’t think any of us are really prepared for this. I think a lot of us are still stunned.”

For the third time in four years, Villanova was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The one time they did not lose in the second round was on a run that will go down in Villanova Basketball history – a National Championship run to Houston that was completed just 11 months ago.

A big part of that ride was accredited to the most decorated class in Villanova basketball history. In the past four years, Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds won 129 games that included four regular season Big East championships, two conference tournament titles and last year’s National title with a buzzer-beating victory over North Carolina.

While Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds will look back on their four years as a time they will never forget, it’s hard to think about that now after a crushing defeat to Wisconsin.  

“To be honest, I still haven’t processed it,” Reynolds said in the Villanova locker room. “I still keep thinking we’re going to learn from it, we’re going to watch film and come back and get better. It’s crazy to think that it’s actually over, and you have to admit that to yourself. We obviously didn’t want it to end like this.”

“It’s always tough to walk off the court after a loss,” said Jenkins, whose three pointer with 4.7 seconds left against North Carolina last year will go down in infamy. “Right now, it sucks. But we know that we have each other for life.” 

Hart, who was named Big East Player of the Year and was just named to as a finalist for the Naismith Award, was proud that his team battled today, despite all the adversity the Wildcats faced this year.  

“We battled,” said Hart, trying to wipe away the tears running down his face in the locker room. “Not having Omari [Spellman] was a blow and not having Phil [Booth] for the rest of the year, Darryl went out for five to six games and this group, they fought and they faced every challenge that was thrown at them and that’s something that I was proud about. When you, basically, don’t have two guys who can potentially start for a great team, I’m proud of what we did. We were counted out after Omari and Phil, so I’m proud of these dudes. They grew up.”

Through the bond that these three seniors shared in their four years, it’s something that is more than words, because all of their accomplishments and memories are more than just what the media sees. Wright will always be thankful for the memories that his senior class brought to his program for the last four years, and will use them as a model on how to be a Villanova basketball player.

“Josh, Kris and Darryl are three of the greatest Villanova basketball players of all time,” Wright said. “Their class is going to go down as the most successful class in Villanova history. But what we take pride in at Villanova even more is that all three of them will graduate on time. All three of them, on the court, through good times, bad times, always conducted themselves extremely well, represented Villanova well. To be that successful on the court and represent the University like they do, is something special. We told our younger guys that that’s what you want to be as a Villanova basketball player. You want to be like Kris and Josh and Darryl.”

If there is any term that can describe the bond between the senior class, it’s a four-letter word.

“The word I can say is love,” Hart said. “I love these dudes ‘till death. We accomplished a lot the last four years and we grew so much. We accomplished so much as people and that’s something that no one will take away from us. We know how much adversity we faced, and how many obstacles we got through as a team and as people. That’s something no-one ever sees.”

“They’re my brothers for life, regardless of what happened this year,” he added. “They’re my brothers for life, regardless what happened this year. We’re close on and off the court, and that bond is never going to be broken. I guarantee you, I’m going to be closer to them to the day I die.”