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."

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

With another Penn Relays win, Villanova's Siofra Cleirigh Buttner aims to keep pace with greats

usa-siofra-cleirigh-buttner.jpg
USA Today Images

With another Penn Relays win, Villanova's Siofra Cleirigh Buttner aims to keep pace with greats

Siofra Cleirigh Buttner was on the shoulder of Stanford's Elise Cranny, and then she wasn't.

Once again Villanova's middle-distance dynamo had found a gear few possess. Once again she powered to the front of the pack and led the Wildcats to a Penn Relays victory β€” this one, in Friday's 4-by-1,500 relay, was their second in as many days β€” and once again she was at a loss to explain it all.

"It seems like I get the same question every time," she said. "For me, I just listen to my legs."

And so she did, anchoring the victorious relay with a blistering 4:11.03 leg. The Wildcats, clocked at 17:25.85, won this race for the second straight year and 11th time in all. They also gave fifth-year senior Angel Piccirillo her eighth career victory, a women's record for the Relays.

The performance by Buttner, a junior, was nothing Wildcats coach Gina Procaccio hadn't seen before. After she ran a strong 800-meter leg to key the 'Cats to a victory in Thursday's distance medley relay (see story), Procaccio talked about her "amazing turnover, to go from zero to 60."

"I've never had an athlete accelerate like she has," she said.

Surely that burst comes in part from her homeland. A native of Dublin, Ireland, she talked about running lush, green hills as a teenager.

"I think that just made me a lot faster," she said.

And it comes in part from the event itself.

"When you come here," Procaccio said, "you just become a different being."

But no small part of it comes because of the push Buttner's teammates give her, and the tireless pursuit β€” on her part, and everyone else's β€” of the stars who preceded her at VU.

Be assured she doesn't want to drop that baton, any more than she does a real one.

In Friday's relay, she was preceded by sophomore Bella Burda, Piccirillo and another soph, Nicole Hutchinson, the last of whom saw Stanford's Christina Aragon nudge into the lead shortly before the exchange.

And for over three laps, Buttner was content to ride Cranny's shoulder. Her parents and sister were looking on. So too was Procaccio, who fretted a bit, knowing that Buttner's best event is the 800, while Cranny had run a sub-4:12 mile this year, and a sub-4:10 last spring.

"I was hurting that last 800," Buttner said, "but I knew that she was hurting, too."

She also knew she had enough in reserve β€” that indeed she always does. And sure enough she blew past Cranny with 200 meters remaining, and that was that. The Wildcats won by nearly two seconds.

"I just have full confidence in myself," she said, "and remember what I'm doing it for and who I'm doing it for."

Folks like Piccirillo, a close friend.

"There's no one more deserving (of the record) than Angel," said Buttner, who has won five wheels herself at the Relays.

She followed what she called "the Irish Pipeline" to Villanova, the one laid by Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan and Marcus O'Sullivan years ago, and during a campus visit got some idea of the import of the Relays when she saw hundreds of wheels lining the walls of one of the school's sports palaces.

"I'd already known a little bit about the Penn Relays," she said, "but once I saw that I really understood the big story behind it."

So she came over. And here's another tribute to her speed β€” she outran homesickness.

"I don't think when you're a student-athlete, you have time to be homesick," she said.

Buttner reiterated something Procaccio said after Friday's race β€” that she is following in the footsteps of departed star Steph Schappert, just as Piccirillo and Schappert were following Emily Lipari and Nicky Akande, and Lipari and Akande were tracking Sheila Reid.

The chase is ongoing. And Buttner is forever listening to her legs, forever ready to put it into overdrive.