Villanova stifled by Wisconsin's 'great defensive play' on Josh Hart

Villanova stifled by Wisconsin's 'great defensive play' on Josh Hart

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It was the final play of Josh Hart's career. The final time he touched the basketball in a Villanova uniform. The end of an era.

And it couldn't have gone worse.

After Wisconsin took a two-point lead on Nigel Hayes' layup with 12 seconds left, Villanova went to work on the potential equalizer in its NCAA Round of 32 meeting with the Badgers Saturday at KeyBank Center (see story).

The play broke down from the start.

"We wanted to get the ball to Jalen (Brunson) and go down to the half court and run a play," Hart said. "You know, they picked us up full court, and we couldn't get it to him. (Donte DiVincenzo) passed it to me, and we went into a ball screen. But Wisconsin made a heck of a defensive play."

As Hart dribbled across half court, he was picked up by 6-foot-8 forward Nigel Hayes. But Hayes was screened out of the play by Eric Paschall, leaving 6-foot-10 Ethan Happ on Villanova's national Player of the Year candidate with 6-foot-8 Vitto Brown to the left, also down in the paint.

"Nigel had him," Happ said. "Nigel picked up and they screened him, so we ended up switching it."

Hart, who would have had a clean look on a short jumper, briefly had a route to the rim, but it closed up quickly with Happ staying between Hart and the rim and Brown leaving Kris Jenkins in the left corner and dropping down low to help.

"I know he likes to go left and spin back, but he just stuck to his left hand the whole time," Happ said. "And then Vitto came over with great help and I walled him up and Vitto came over and got the almost tie-up but ended up blocking it."

Brown stuck his hand in as Hart went by with about six seconds left and the ball popped out.

Hart may have traveled even before he was tied up and lost the ball, but it wasn't called. 

Brown controlled the loose ball and was immediately fouled by DiVincenzo.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright said Hart did the right thing by driving to the basket instead of stopping for a short jumper.

"It's simple for us," Wright said. "If they let us get it to Jalen, we're going to run a play. If they don't, we're going to get it to Josh or Donte (DiVincenzo) and run a middle ball screen.

"Josh, down two, got all of the way to the rim, and that's what you want to do. You want to be aggressive going at the rim and try to score and get fouled. They made a great defensive play."

Brown said he and Happ were trying to be aggressive defensively in a game that was officiated very closely.

"The way some of the calls were going, we weren't sure if there would have been a foul in the end and so Ethan did a great job keeping his hands back and kind of taking the ambiguity out of so they wouldn't call that foul," he said.

"And then I figured he wasn't paying attention to me, so I kind of reached in there and had to hold it strong because DiVincenzo was coming strong to rip from me."

Brown made his first foul shot and missed the second with four seconds left to make it a 65-62 game.

DiVincenzo rebounded the miss, but Villanova was never able to get a potential game-tying shot off.

Villanova, which won a national title last year by making all the right plays in the final seconds, was eliminated this year because of its inability to make the right play in the final seconds.

Villanova entered Saturday's game 17-5 over the last four years in games decided by five or fewer points.

It's now 17-6 in five-point games, and incredibly, four of those six losses have come in tournament play -- to Seton Hall in the 2014 and 2015 Big East Tournaments, to North Carolina State in the 2015 NCAAs and Saturday to Wisconsin in the 2017 NCAA Tourney.

"They've made so many last second game-winning plays," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said.

"Going through the film, you look at the tight games and down the stretch how many game-winning plays they've made. And predominantly it had been in (Hart or Brunson's) hands or those two guys were somehow involved.  

"Those two guys typically either have the ball in their hands or are somehow involved in trying to make a play for them.

"You've got to give credit where credit's due. Those two guys are two terrific players. I've watched -- what are they 32-4? -- so 35 games, going through quite a few of them and watching them go downhill on a lot of people and get the ball in the paint.

"I watched Brunson in high school, and know what type of guard he is. And Josh Hart is a terrific player, too. That's how they played all year. A lot of teams had a hard time keeping them out of the paint."

Villanova's Josh Hart signs with Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports

Villanova's Josh Hart signs with Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports

Villanova guard and NBA draft first-round hopeful Josh Hart has signed with Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports.

Hart will enter the draft after participating in the NBA combine last year and subsequently pulling his name out to return to Villanova for his senior season.

Hart and the rest of the 'Cats didn't repeat as national champions -- they were upset by 8-seed Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament -- but they still finished the year with a 32-4 record and a Big East Tournament title.

In his senior year, Hart led Villanova in scoring and rebounding with 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He was named Big East player of the Year on March 8.

Hart was also named one of four finalists for the James A. Naismith award, given to the nation's best player. Kansas' Frank Mason III, UCLA's Lonzo Ball and Purdue's Caleb Swanigan join Hart as finalists (see story).

Hart joins a Roc Nation Sports basketball family that now consists of 13 athletes, including Kevin Durant, Justise Winslow, Rudy Gay, Caris Levert, Jeremy Lin, Willie Cauley-Stein, Wilson Chandler, Ty Lawson, Henry Ellenson, Mike Gbinije, Skylar Diggins and James Young.

Stung by loss to Wisconsin, Jay Wright couldn't watch NCAA Tournament next day

Stung by loss to Wisconsin, Jay Wright couldn't watch NCAA Tournament next day

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- You might think after 16 years at Villanova, 24 years as an NCAA Division I head coach and 35 years coaching college hoops it might get easier for Jay Wright.

Nope.

"It's still hard," he said. "It just hurts, you know?"

Even after winning a national championship last year, Wright was still an emotional wreck Monday, two days after his top-ranked and top-seeded Villanova Wildcats were ousted from this year's NCAA Tournament, 65-62, by Wisconsin in Buffalo.

Wright said he hasn't watched a minute of college basketball since Villanova lost and said he's been passing the time diagramming plays for next year's team to run.

"It's kind of cathartic to think about next year," he said. "I couldn't (watch). I really couldn't. I'm very interested in the scores, but I really couldn't watch any games.

"I wish I had a better answer for you but it just hurts. It's part of being a competitor. You hit the highest highs and the lowest lows.

"There are a lot more serious things in the world, but it still stings and it probably will until the tournament's over."

Wright won his 500th game as a head coach this year and led Villanova to its third straight season with at least 32 wins, something no other Division I team has done.

He probably actually did one of his best coaching jobs ever this year, coaxing 32 wins and Big East regular-season and tournament championships out of an undermanned team that lost two all-time Villanova greats to graduation and then lost two projected starters for the season -- Omari Spellman to a ridiculous NCAA ruling and Phil Booth to knee pain.

Villanova's 32 wins are the most ever by a defending national champion. Wright acknowledged the championship hangover and navigated his team through it, right up to the final seconds of the Wisconsin loss.

"This is difficult," he said. "This group of seniors is so special. They're all special to me, they're all difficult. When you lose in the second round, they're tough because there's still a lot of basketball to be played and you're not in it and you're having a meeting.

"I was so proud of how they handled the repeat talk all season. It was just a great battle of two outstanding teams. They're a more veteran team than we are, and we're a veteran team. I think we just got beat by a team that played better that day. The next day we could have beaten that team."

Wright in past years has quickly converted to network TV analyst when the Wildcats have been knocked out early, but he said he has no plans to do anything like this time around.

He's exhausted, just like his team, and he just needs some down time.

"It's been a long (grind)," he said. "It seems like last season just ran right into this season and we all could use a break.

"No complaints. I would do it all over again. But I think we could all use a break. Go down to the Final Four, go to the coaches convention, which I missed last year, which was nice. You'd always rather be playing."

Wright is always the subject of job rumors, and he knows this year will be no different.

But he also said he has no plans to leave.

"I love it here," he said. "When people talk to you about a job, it's flattering and we all like to feel like we're wanted, but honestly, I like it better if it wouldn't happen because I know I don't want to go because I love it here.

"I'm very happy here and plan to be staying at Villanova."