LOS ANGELES – Sorry you missed it.
Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you stayed up. If you got past halftime, no chance you packed it in, or even nodded off for more than a timeout, as this one rolled almost to 2 a.m. Saturday, Villanova body clock time. Right to the last possession, to a driving Villanova shot that fell off the rim .... into overtime.
Five more minutes, bring it on, Villanova and UCLA, No. 4 at No. 2. It was all somehow exactly what you expected and stocked with little twists.
“It was early, it wasn’t ugly,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said later about this kind of game taking place in November. “The game got super high-level for a while. There was some serious shotmaking going on.”
If you woke up Saturday morning to the score – UCLA 86, Villanova 77 – nope, that didn’t capture it.
UCLA students were outside all day lined up to get in. UCLA’s band tore up the joint pregame. Kyle Lowry was there and a bunch of former Bruins greats, and the Dodgers manager, himself a Bruin. Cedric the Entertainer sat courtside – he was entertained.
Villanova fans who stayed up, they probably thought their team was pulling this off. A ten-point lead, just under 10 minutes left, looked like a legit cushion. Two possessions later, two Bruins three-pointers.
“Them on the offensive glass, and us putting them on the foul line,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said later, talking about good defensive possessions they couldn’t finish by getting rebounds. “They’re a really good team. They gutted it out, and we didn’t.”
Villanova may already be better defensively than you’d guess. Those other guys just had prime time players too. Those other guys played D every possession, and hit their free throws.
“It’s awesome to practice here, just the history, you can feel it,” Wright said. “It’s awesome to practice, so playing here is even better.”
A lot of positives, Wright made clear, talking about how UCLA is such a tough, smart, well-coached team. “We hung and we had our chances,” Wright said.
Veering into moral victory territory? Forget it.
“You’ve got to learn you don’t get these chances a lot,” Villanova’s coach said. “We did a lot of good things, and when you do that, you’ve got to do it consistently.”
A game where both teams combined to make five of their first 29 shots, and 22 of their next 29.
“I think you had two good defensive teams that were very physical,” Wright said. “I think by the second half, we both got used to the physicality of the other. It’s hard to simulate that in practice.”
It was the kind of game where UCLA star Johnny Juzang could look like a mess for long stretches of the first half then take over big stretches of the second. Where Jaime Jaquez Jr. could let you know he’s one of the top go-to forwards in the country.
Wright let his freshman sit and watch this one, let his veterans show them how it’s done. Wright said he didn’t think it would be fair to put them in this type of game, “but we’ve got to get them in there.”
The type of game where missing injured Bryan Antoine maybe was a factor for Villanova, where Justin Moore getting in early foul trouble certainly was a factor, where maybe the shorter rotation caused Villanova to get a little worn down the stretch, as shots kept finding the front rim.
“No, I don’t think we got worn down,” Jermaine Samuels said. “We just didn’t execute, didn’t get the job done.”
“We got a little stagnant, a little bit of iso ball,” Collin Gillespie said of the second-half dry spell.
Wright looked at it differently.
“I think we got worn down,” Wright said, standing in a hallway just of the court, the place still buzzing. “I think our lack of depth hurt us.”
He wasn’t talking so much about the shots that found the rim.
“We don’t worry as much about those droughts offensively – that’s when we count on our defense,” Wright said. “We did have that drought offensively. That doesn’t bother us. There were two possessions in a row where we didn’t play Juzang correctly.”
And two possessions in a row where Bruins point guard Tyger Campbell buried threes, so that 10-point lead was down to four points less than a minute later.
“We had a chance to separate,” Wright said. “Even if we didn’t separate, it could have been 10, 8 ...”
This game, UCLA’s coach was the one who could talk about defensive stops, including seven in a row at the end of regulation, then no Villanova field goals in overtime until the last minute when the Wildcats were down by 10.
“You get 10 stops in a row, you have a chance,” Cronin said of his late defense.
Cronin got back to the court for postgame radio, talking about how Wright is one of the top coaches in sports, not just college basketball. How Villanova showing up for this was big in itself. “Not everybody is willing to fly across the country early in the season,” Cronin said.
UCLA’s radio team was talking about how if the Bruins hadn’t had an epic battle with Gonzaga in last season’s NCAA tournament, this game might have been the defining one of the era so far.
Meanwhile, Villanova was red-eye chartering home, probably back to campus before you woke up Saturday morning.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Wright said, which is probably another way of saying he likes the possibilities for this team, even after a big-time game that got away.