Achraf Yacoubou and Daniel Ochefu found themselves lost in a swarm of Villanova fans who had stormed the court, seconds after the Wildcats pulled off an exhilarating 73-64 upset over the 5th ranked Louisville Cardinals (16-3 overall, 4-2 Big East) Tuesday night, in one of the biggest wins for Jay Wright’s struggling program in recent memory. With less than 4 minutes to play, it was Yacoubou’s tie-breaking 3-pointer that would end up giving Villanova (12-7, 3-3) the lead for good.
The Wildcats came into Tuesday night’s game as the sloppiest ball handling team in the Big East, averaging 16 turnovers a game, while Louisville came in with a reputation of being a team that thrived on pressuring their opponents into mistakes. On the surface, it appeared as though the Cardinals would have the easy advantage in this one.
Not long after the ball was tipped however, it became evident that the Wildcats were prepared, confident, and more than ready for the challenge the 5th ranked Louisville Cardinals presented them with. Villanova overcame their turnovers, 19 on this particular night, with clutch three-point shooting and efficiency at the free-throw line, along with suffocating man-to-man defense that flustered the 5th-ranked Cardinals into an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers on the night.
Ryan Arcidiacono led the Wildcats with 15 points, including four of his team’s run of ten straight free throws in the final 49 seconds. Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Mouphtaou Yarou each added 11 points. Villanova made 7 three-pointers and shot 46.7 percent from deep. Wayne Blackshear led Louisville with 17 points. Russ Smith, the conference’s third-leading scorer averaging 19.3 points a game, shot just 2-for-13 from the field, ending up with 8 points for the Cardinals, much in part to the defense of Villanova’s James Bell, who had Smith frustrated all night. Louisville hurt themselves with poor free-throw shooting, making just 12 of 24 from the line.
Midway through the second half, it appeared as though Louisville’s consistent full-court pressure and overall talent advantage over Villanova would end up leading them to victory. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, a 6-foot-11 junior center, began to take the game over, with Dieng scoring 7 of his 10 points in the second half, sparking Louisville on a 12-2 run, giving them a 52-46 lead with 8 minutes, 23 seconds remaining. But the Wildcats would score the game’s next 7 points, ignited by Darrun Hilliard’s mid-court steal and driving layup resulting in a three-point play, and ending on a tip-in by JayVaughn Pinkston to give Villanova a 53-52 lead with 5:54 remaining in the game. During this run, Louisville missed the front end of two 1-and-1’s, and Chane Behanan missed a pair once Louisville entered into the double bonus. After Behanan sank a free throw to tie the game at 53, Achraf Yacoubou sank a corner three-pointer to put Villanova ahead for good, 56-53, with less than 4 minutes to play, and James Bell knocked down another three on the following possession to double the advantage to six. After Peyton Siva followed with a driving layup, Arcidiacono and Yarou combined for three free throws to give Villanova a 62-55 lead with 1:47 remaining, and the crowd began to stir with excitement. Louisville would come as close to within 4 points in the final 2 minutes of the game, but the Wildcats finished them off with 10 consecutive free throws.
The Wildcats still had trouble handling the basketball in the game, committing 10 first-half turnovers, however they played defense well enough to force Louisville into 10 turnovers in the half as well.
In what may be the final time Louisville’s Rick Pitino coaches his team here in Philadelphia as a member of the Big East Conference, Jay Wright and the Wildcats sent him away with a reminder that Villanova hasn’t gone away just yet.
On Saturday, January 26th, Jay Wright and the Wildcats host the 3rd-ranked Syracuse Orange at the Wells Fargo Center, as they attempt to take down a top 5 opponent in back-to-back games and keep their positive momentum going.Tags: Achraf Yacoubou, Big Five, Daniel Ochefu, Darrun Hilliard, James Bell, Jay Wright, JayVaughn Pinkston, Louisville, Mouphtaou Yarou, NCAA, Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova