Villanova goes ice-cold down the stretch, loses 79-59 to Creighton
The Wildcats cut a 12-point deficit to two with 8:38 to play but did not make a single basket the rest of the game, scoring their final five points on free throws, and giving up too many layups.
OMAHA, Neb. – It wasn’t going to be an easy bounce-back game Friday night for Villanova, coming off an ugly 21-point defeat at Baylor and then going back on the road to play Creighton, a team that plays a style that usually gives the Wildcats problems.
And the Bluejays were just as advertised, slicing the Wildcats’ defense for what seemed to be a layup drill at times, and getting fantastic interior defense from 7-foot-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner in knocking off the ninth-ranked visitors, 79-59, in their Big East opener before a noisy throng of 17,208 at CHI Health Center.
The loss was the first for Villanova (7-4) against an unranked team this season, and it marked another dubious historical distinction. Five days after scoring their lowest number of points in the Jay Wright era in a 57-36 loss to Baylor, the Wildcats experienced their first back-to-back 20-point defeats in Wright’s 21-year tenure.
In the end, Creighton’s offense found too many holes in the Cats’ defense.
“That definitely was not one of our best defensive efforts,” Wright said. “You’ve got to give them credit. They’re always a tough team to guard. I love how they play, pretty unselfishly. The guys with the ball are unselfish. The guys without the ball cut real hard and help out their teammates. And they’re hard to guard. We’ve done a good job sometimes. We did not do a good job tonight.”
After cutting a 12-point deficit to two, 56-54, on Eric Dixon’s follow-up basket with 8 minutes, 38 seconds to play, the Wildcats went the rest of the way without a field goal, missing their last 12 shots. Their first eight bricks in that run spurred a 15-3 run that gave Creighton a 71-57 lead with 3:24 left on Kalkbrenner’s dunk.
“We came out in the second half, made a little run, but then again some poor offensive possessions by us and they got out in transition again,” Wright said. “When they get going, they’re fast, especially at this place, they’re really good. They played great tonight.”
The Wildcats again struggled from three-point range, making only 1-of-12 in the second half and 4-of-23 for the game. In their last three games, the Cats are 23-of-100 from deep (23%).
Collin Gillespie led the Wildcats with 16 points and Dixon added 15 plus nine rebounds. Ryan Hawkins led the Bluejays (9-3) with 19 points and 11 boards. Kalkbrenner had 8points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots as well as countless more he altered.
Villanova shot 33.3% for the game with just four assists.
The layup drill
Creighton has typically given Villanova fits with its quickness and speed, and that was the case in the second half after the Wildcats had drawn to within two points.
The Bluejays converted five baskets, all on layups, in a 10-1 run that boosted their lead to 11, 66-55, with 5:16 to play. It really was not a characteristic performance at the defensive end by the Wildcats, who had averaged 61.5 points allowed coming into the game.
For the game, Creighton outscored Villanova 42-24 in the paint and held a 41-29 rebounding edge. The Bluejays shot 54.4%.
A matter of pace
Villanova had its tempo just where it liked it in the opening 12-plus minutes of the game, shooting 7-of-12 from the floor and holding a 21-20 lead with 7:45 to play. But the Bluejays, with a young team that has had its share of struggles in the early part of the season, finally found their pace.
A hook in the lane by freshman Trey Alexander launched the Bluejays on a 19-9 run for the remainder of the half. They made seven of their last nine attempts, with the Wildcats scrambling to find the open man, the guy they usually came upon just a fraction of a second too late.
On offense, the Cats couldn’t find the net, sinking only three of their last 15. Gillespie had some hard luck, missing his last three shots — all threes — with two of them rimming out. He finished with eight points to tie Dixon for team-high honors in the first half.
» READ MORE: Is Villanova too reliant on the three-point shot?
Dixon’s best performance
The 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore played perhaps his best game of the season, battling the 7-1 Kalkbrenner inside and hitting a number of perimeter shots, including each of his first two three-point attempts. He also established position under the boards effectively. For the game, he had five of the Cats’ 13 offensive rebounds.
“He did a good job tonight, and he did a good job defensively,” Wright said. “We were pretty good when he was in there. At the end we were pressing and tried to play a little faster, but he did a good job.”
Dixon played just 11 minutes in the second half, and 23 for the game.
Junior guard Bryan Antoine, who has been plagued by injuries in his Villanova career, made his season debut with 10:34 left in the first half and played 2:36 before being lifted. He played a total of 6:44, but his box score line was all zeroes.
Antoine, who only returned to practice last week and suited up for the first time against Baylor, gave the Wildcats four bench players who were all upperclassmen. They managed just two points in the first half and six for the game, compared to 22 points for the Bluejays.
“We have to bring him back gradually,” Wright said. “He’s only practiced a few days. I thought he gave us good minutes and he’s got a lot of ground to make up here, but he gives us some depth.”