Sweet, Sweet Victory



Eugene Rapay

Villanova only needed one answer for the same question it had been asked a hundred different ways before the season started.

Can you get past the first weekend? Do you think you have what it takes to reach the Sweet 16? Is there an added pressure given the recent early exits from the NCAA Tournament?

The Wildcats have heard it all. Throughout the season they chose to stick to their one-day-at-a-time approach to each game and each opponent.

On Sunday, that day finally came.

And they delivered.

Villanova finally shook off its past failures, defeating 7-seed Iowa Hawkeyes 87-68 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will be heading to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.

“They were so determined to win this game and give their best effort in this game that it just superseded everything,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “As a coaching staff, we try to approach each game that way too, that, you know what, you’ve put all that work in. Let’s just do what we do. Fortunately, it was good enough for them.”

The Wildcats used a tenacious defensive effort and a balanced attack to take down the Hawkeyes.

Four different players scored in double figures for the blue and white – Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Jalen Brunson.

Hart and Arcidiacono led the ‘Cats, scoring 19 and 15, respectively.

After a closely contested beginning to the game from opening tip-off, Villanova made its move to get some separation.

With 13:37 remaining in the first half, the game was tied at 13 after Iowa’s Dom Uhl sank a long-range basket.

The Wildcats responded with an 11-2 run that was capped off by a Jalen Brunson 3-pointer to make it 24-15 with 10:44 left in the first.

The three ball was kind for Villanova, who started the game shooting 7-of-10 from beyond the arc.

Iowa found itself quickly overwhelmed and almost helpless. If a Hawkeye defender chose to close out on the shooter, it made the Iowa defense vulnerable getting blown by in dribble penetration. Whenever the Hawkeyes backed off to account for a driving guard, the Wildcats simply pulled up.

“Their offense was very, very good,” Iowa forward Nicolas Baer said. “I thought they did a nice job of getting into us and pressuring us.”

On the other end of the court, Villanova’s swarming press disoriented Iowa’s players, causing them to make more mistakes than they would have liked.

In Friday’s overtime win against Temple, Iowa turned the ball over only three times for the whole game.

That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as the Hawkeyes coughed up the ball 13 times, including eight times in the first half alone.

With Villanova getting its shots to drop on offense and forcing turnovers to fuel its attack, the Wildcats were able to get off to a big lead.

Iowa had no answer for the Wildcats’ onslaught and found itself quickly falling behind. Villanova was able to find the open man spotting up on the three-point line and knock down its shots.

“When you just have a team that comes out and makes shots, makes every play defensively, it’s tough to get back in it,” Wright said. “I just thought the first half was the key to the game. We were just hitting on all cylinders.”

Villanova took a 54-29 lead going into halftime.

The large lead the Wildcats built was enough for them to coast to the final buzzer. They were even able to push the lead to as high as 34 in the second half.

However, they showed signs of easing up, as the Hawkeyes were able to work into Villanova’s lead. They were able to decipher Villanova’s game plan albeit a bit too late.

The Hawkeyes were able to cut down the Wildcats’ lead to as low as 16, but with just less than two minutes remaining – the game was far out of reach.

Jarrod Uthoff finished with 16 points for the Hawkeyes, while Peter Jok added another 11 in the loss.

Now, Villanova will be heading into unfamiliar grounds – the Sweet 16. This won’t be the first time for Wright, but for everyone on his team, it will be.

“They’ve been through a lot,” he said. “They will not be impacted by the moment. I think they’ll be inspired.”

Villanova will play 3-seed Miami in Louisville on Thursday.