It all happened so quickly Saturday for Villanova, which had a 15-minute stretch in the middle of its Sweet 16 matchup against Baylor where it never trailed while keeping a hand in the face of the Bears’ deadly three-point shooter.
All of a sudden, midway through the second half, the top-seeded Bears ratcheted up their defensive intensity. The Wildcats’ offense was left in disarray, going 5 minutes and 15 seconds without scoring while turning the ball over five times, giving Baylor momentum it would never relinquish.
The gutty run for the shorthanded Cats ended in a 62-51 loss at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. Playing without injured point guard Collin Gillespie, who watched the game live with sidelined teammate Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, they finished their season with an 18-7 record that included a seventh trip to the Sweet 16 under coach Jay Wright.
“I’d like to say I’m really proud of our guys and I love this team, love coaching this team,” Wright said. “We were good enough to beat them, they just played better down the stretch. Down the stretch, their defense just got into us and wore us down and it made the difference in the game.”
After shooting 50% in the first half, the Cats made just 37.5% of their field-goal attempts in the second half and missed all nine of their three-point shots while turning the ball over nine times. Baylor (25-2) scored 13 points off the turnovers in the half, and 22 points off Nova’s 16 turnovers for the game.
Villanova took control of the game in the first half with a 13-0 run and outscored the Bears, 19-5, in the final 8 minutes, 33 seconds to take a 30-23 halftime lead. The Cats held Baylor, the nation’s top three-point shooting team at 41.5%, to just two three-point baskets in 12 attempts in the opening 20 minutes.
The Bears came out much more aggressive in the second half, driving to the basket at will, but it was their defense that swung the momentum in their favor.
It all started to go wrong for the Wildcats after Justin Moore’s layup gave them their last lead at 41-39 with 11:29 remaining. The Cats then went scoreless for the next 5:15, turning the ball over on each of their next four possessions after Moore’s basket while the Bears went on an 8-0 run that gave them a 47-41 lead on Matthew Mayer’s layup with 8:10 to play.
“They really got into our guards and prevented us from initiating offense,” Wright said. “They just contested every pass, every cut. It actually took us out of running offense and we had to try to just drive the ball and try to get some post-ups, but we didn’t do a good job of that. But I think the credit goes to their defense.”
“You could say that we got sped up a little bit, their defense went to another level,” said senior forward Jermaine Samuels, who led the Wildcats with 16 points. “During those times you’ve got to be solid with the ball, and we just didn’t do a good job of staying solid and they got out in transition.”
A follow-up basket by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who was held to eight points, ended the drought with 6:14 remaining, but Villanova would not score another field goal for the next 3:16 while committing two more turnovers. Davion Mitchell hit back-to-back baskets to extend the Bears’ lead to nine at 56-47 before Moore’s layup cut the deficit to seven.
But Adam Flagler, who scored 16 points off the bench to lead the Bears, knocked down six consecutive free throws to ice the game and send Baylor to its third Elite Eight game under coach Scott Drew.
Moore added 15 points for the Wildcats, who did a fine job on All-America guard Jared Butler, limiting him to nine points on 4-of-14 shooting that included one three-point basket in nine tries.
Brandon Slater, a 6-6 junior, provided a defensive lift for Villanova and added a thunderous dunk, but he suffered an ankle injury and left the game with 9:48 to play, in the middle of his team’s drought, and did not play again until the final minute.
“He was playing great,” Wright said. “We had a tough time. Certain guys were struggling with matchups on their quick guards, and he was doing a great job. Besides us turning the ball over, that’s when it kind of turned, too, when he went out.”