Villanova's bid to repeat as national champs ends after being 'stunned' by Wisconsin

Villanova's bid to repeat as national champs ends after being 'stunned' by Wisconsin

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- They were up seven with five minutes to go and in those nightmarish final five minutes, everything that could go wrong went wrong.

The Villanova Wildcats committed bad turnovers. They missed shots. They didn't box out and allowed follow shots. They committed fouls.

Against some teams, against most teams, Villanova could have gotten away with the mistakes and moved on. Against a tough, veteran, talented Wisconsin team, it meant the end of Villanova's reign as national champions.

"They made a lot of plays down the stretch and we give them all the credit," Kris Jenkins said. "I don't think we did anything wrong, they just did everything right."

Wisconsin outscored Villanova, 15-5, over those final five minutes, turning a seven-point deficit into a 65-62 win and for the fourth straight year a berth in the Sweet 16 (see Instant Replay).

For Villanova, it was a shocking end to another phenomenal season.

"This one is more stunning to these guys and crushing," coach Jay Wright said. "Me included. Till the last second of that game, I thought we had a chance to win the game so I wasn't thinking about this or dealing with this. I don't think any of this were prepared for this. I think all of us are still stunned."

Villanova won 32 games this year and 129 games over the past four years, the 10th-most ever by a NCAA Division I program in a four-year span.

The Wildcats won the Big East regular-season title and the Big East Tournament. They weren't just ranked No. 1, they earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Then they drew a team that was just as talented, just as experienced and much deeper in the second round of the East Regional.

Wisconsin, ranked as high as seventh this year, is a 27-win team out of the Big Ten and really shouldn't have been an eight seed. But you play who you play, and in those last five minutes, Villanova simply was not the best team on the court.

"They're a heck of at team, they're really experienced, four starters who are seniors, Final Four experience," Villanova freshman Donte DiVincenzo said.

"Great teams make great plays. We executed, they went on a little run, and there were some little things we slipped up on. But credit to them. They're an amazing team and they executed well at the end.

"We slipped up. They never slipped up."

Villanova trailed by eight early but battled back and used a 24-13 run keyed by Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and DiVincenzo to build that 57-50 lead.

Then disaster.

Nigel Hayes made a layup. Five-point game.

Hayes blocked Hart's shot. Brunson missed a three. Bronson Koenig made a three. Two-point game.

Hart made one of two foul shots and Ethan Happ made a layup.

Just like that Villanova's cushion was gone.

The game was tied at 62 when Hayes faked out Mikal Bridges and drove for a reverse layup with 11 seconds left.

Hart -- who else? -- drove the lane looking for the equalizer, but he was stripped by Vitto Brown. Brown got fouled, made one of two and that was it.

"You're going to make mistakes, and we've been very good this year responding to mistakes," Wright said.

"Down the stretch, we tried to find a way to respond to each bad play and we just didn't find a way to respond at the end. We didn't have that final response that Wisconsin did."

It's hard to imagine the No. 1 team in the country being unable to protect a seven-point lead in the final five minutes of a game.

But this team just wasn't quite as deep, talented or explosive as last year's national champs. That team knew how to finish an opponent off when it had them down.

"Definitely, any type of lead like that you should be able to finish it off," said Hart, who finished his brilliant career with 19 points.

"But you have to give them credit. They played well. They made some incredible shots at the end. It's an experienced team that's been to the Final 4. Just have to give them credit."

Villanova has now lost as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed four times to opponents seeded seventh or lower in the last eight years.

The Wildcats, who got a combined eight points from three of their starters, made just one basket in the final 5 1/2 minutes.

"This is what NCAA Tournament games come down to," Wright said. "Down the stretch, they made two great offensive plays, two great defensive stops, and that was the difference in the game.

"From 57-50 the game really got shortened. They had a couple of possessions where they got an offensive rebound. They had another possession where the shot clock went down to zero, and then there was a foul called at the shot clock, so they got a whole other possession. So there weren't that many possessions.

"I think that's what the game came down to. We had a couple empty possessions at the end, and they had two great possessions. That's what close games come down to.

"We've been on the other end of that a lot. And when another team steps up and makes those plays and two great players like Koenig and Hayes make those plays, you got to give them credit."

Villanova made just five of 16 threes, just one of five in the second half. They missed six foul shots, including three in the final 3 1/2 minutes.

DiVincenzo scored 15 off the bench and Brunson scored 11, all in the second half. But Bridges was scoreless and Jenkins shot 2 for 9 for just six points with no threes.

"I hate to lose so I take every loss tough," Hart said. "This one's the same. It sucks, but we've had a great four years here, something we can definitely hang our hats on.

"We're going to go off and we'll be successful and the guys who are coming back, now they know this feeling. I just told them, make sure you don't feel this feeling again."

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

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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.