Coming off two blowout wins against Big East Conference bottom-feeders DePaul and South Florida, the Villanova Wildcats traveled west to the state of Ohio Tuesday night to take on the previously 17th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena. Jay Wright‘s squad knew going in that the Bearcats were going to present a much tougher challenge than their two previous opponents, however as the game progressed, it didn’t appear as though the Wildcats were quite up to the task.
Cincinnati (19-6 overall, 7-5 Big East) entered the night as the 16th-ranked defense in the country in terms of defensive field goal percentage, holding their opponents to just a 38 percent conversion rate, which was certainly on display Tuesday night against the Wildcats (15-10, 6-6), as they smothered Villanova defensively from the opening minutes to the final buzzer. That defense, along with 12 three-point baskets, enabled the Bearcats to roll to a 68-50 victory in front of a home crowd of close to 10,000.
“Their defense was outstanding,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ”Their guards dominated us. I give their veteran guards a lot of credit for the team defense by them. We just had no answer for their guards.” The veterans Wright spoke of were Senior Cashmere Wright and Junior Sean Kilpatrick, who came into the night as the 4th leading scorer in the conference at 18.2 points per game. He played quite a large role in the contest, recording 19 points including 4 for 10 from the 3-point line, to go along with 8 rebounds. Cashmere Wright added 11 points and 4 assists.
Strong defense by both squads made scoring a challenge over the first eight minutes of the game. Junior guard Tony Chennault came off the bench to give Villanova a boost, draining jumpers on back to back possessions to give the Wildcats an 8-7 lead with 11:30 remaining in the first half. The Bearcats sank 4 threes over the next 6 minutes, the first three-point baskets scored by either team on the night, to take a 21-14 lead with just over 5 minutes to go in the opening period. Villanova then picked up its first two long distance field goals of the game on consecutive possessions by James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono to narrow the gap to 26-24 with under three minutes remaining. Sean Kilpatrick, the standout star of the game and a thorn in the side of the Wildcats all night, then drained two straight 3-pointers to extend UC’s advantage to 32-24 with a minute left in the half. Villanova fought back and scored the last 5 points of the period, including a bazaar play which consisted of Arcidiacono grabbing a loose ball while falling to the floor and flipping it over his head towards the basket, where Sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston caught it in mid-air and laid it in as the buzzer sounded, making it a three point game after the first 20 minutes, 32-29.
After both teams returned from their respective locker rooms after halftime however is when things started to fall apart for the Wildcats. Cincinnati forced six turnovers on ‘Nova’s first 12 possessions of the second half and increased their lead to 44-33 with 12 minutes, 59 seconds remaining with the help of Sean Kilpatrick’s three-point play. Villanova got as close as 10 points, 47-37, on Darrun Hilliard‘s layup but the Bearcats surged ahead yet again with a 15-4 spurt, with all five of their baskets during the run coming on three-pointers, including two by Kilpatrick. The run ended with JaQuon Parker’s three-ball that gave the home team its largest lead, 59-41, with just over five minutes to play. The Wildcats never got closer than 13 from that point on. In all, Cincinnati attempted 25 shots from beyond the arc in the game, making 12 of them, good for a 48 percent clip.
Darrun Hilliard, who played a major role for the ‘Cats in beating Louisville and Syracuse, and who was averaging 16.2 points per game over the last 8 contests, finished with just 5 points on 2 of 7 shooting. JayVaughn Pinkston led the way with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, Senior Mouphtaou Yarou added 10 points and 5 rebounds and James Bell chipped in with 8 points and 8 rebounds. Ryan Arcidiacono, who provided the lone bright spot for Villanova, continued his development finishing with 7 points, 5 assists and just 2 turnovers. He also did a better job of penetrating the defense, drawing defenders his way resulting in more open looks for his teammates.
A huge factor this season for the Wildcats has been their three-point shooting. In their wins against DePaul and South Florida, they converted 17 of 31 (54.8%) from beyond the arc, but in their losses to Notre Dame, Providence and now Cincinatti, they’ve gone 8 for 38 (21%), including a 3 for 13 showing Tuesday night. They haven’t lost a game yet this year in which they’ve made at least 6 three-point baskets. Another monumental factor for them has been their turnover rate, which currently sits at a whopping 23 percent, good for 300th in the country. 299 teams turn the ball over less than ‘Nova, which has cost them quite a few games this year, including Tuesday night against the Bearcats where they committed 19 turnovers, leading to 21 points for UC.
Villanova now must play a second consecutive road game, traveling to Hartford, Connecticut on Saturday to take on UConn (16-6 overall, 6-4 Big East). Tip-off is at 12:00 PM and can be seen on ESPN. With the loss against Cincinnati, time is running out for the Wildcats to improve their NCAA Tournament resume, however bouncing back with a Big East road win against the Huskies would be a very good start.Tags: Big Five, James Bell, loss, NCAA, Ryan Arcidiacono, Tony Chennault, Villanova, Wildcats