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."

Jalen Brunson explains decision to return to Villanova: 'Process was simple'

Jalen Brunson explains decision to return to Villanova: 'Process was simple'

Over the past month, there has been plenty of speculation as to whether or not Jalen Brunson would decide to stay at Villanova or turn pro.

For Brunson himself, though, it was never really much of a decision.

"The process was simple," Brunson told CSNPhilly.com by phone a couple of hours after Villanova announced that the star point guard would return for his junior year (see story). "I told myself and I told my family when I came here that I wanted to try to compete and win a national championship and I want to get my degree. I did one of those things, which was probably the harder part of the deal. Now I just want to get my degree."

Brunson, a freshman on the Wildcats' 2015-16 national championship team, is poised to get that degree at the end of his junior year, thanks to the emphasis he puts on education, the encouragement of Villanova's staff and a whole lot of summer classes.

Only then will he begin to look at the next chapter of his basketball journey.

"I just think with the support I have here, they all know that this is what I want to do," said Brunson, a communications major with a 3.54 grade-point average and a recent recipient of the Big 5 Scholar Athlete of the Year award. "No one has put me down saying, 'No, I don't think it's possible, I don't think you should do it.' They really encouraged me to do so and they really helped me along the way."

There were, of course, basketball factors that led to Brunson's return, as well. The rising junior loves everything about the 'Nova program and said he's excited for the opportunity to "lead the team" as an upperclassman.

And even with Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds moving on, he believes the Wildcats will remain a force after going a combined 67-9 in his first two collegiate seasons.

"Maybe we won't have the record we've had the past couple of years," said Brunson, who averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game last season. "But I know one thing: we're gonna play Villanova basketball when we're on the court. And I think the reason for the is we're gonna have another set of leaders that brings that to the table every time we step on the court."

With Brunson coming back and Phil Booth returning from an injury-riddled 2016-17 campaign, the Wildcats will certainly be loaded at the guard position next year. Brunson is especially eager to potentially share the same backcourt as Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench last season but looks poised to become one of the program's next big stars.

"I'm definitely looking forward to that," Brunson said. "I've been looking forward to that ever since we met. … We have a relationship. We're really close. And I think our chemistry helps us on the court. So coming back and playing with him again is definitely going to be a plus, and I'm just really excited for the opportunity."

Jalen Brunson returning to Villanova for junior season

Jalen Brunson returning to Villanova for junior season

Jalen Brunson will return to Villanova for his junior season.

The school made the announcement Thursday, ending speculation that the Wildcats' star point guard would declare for the NBA draft or at least go through the process before making a decision, as former teammates Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins did a year ago.

“Jalen is an outstanding student who loves being at Villanova and wants to complete his degree by the end of his junior year,” Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “This was a simple decision made by Jalen’s family. Jalen wants to graduate, be a leader on this year’s team, and compete for a championship.”

Brunson averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists last season as the Wildcats won the Big East regular season and tournament championship. They were upset by Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament and finished 32-4.

His return means the Wildcats will be expected to make another deep tournament run. Villanova loses seniors Hart, Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds but still has plenty of talent coming back in Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and coming in with Omari Spellman and freshmen Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels.