Luckily for Villanova, they had essentially locked up an NCAA Tournament at-large bid with their win over St. John’s on Wednesday, because they were simply out-matched and out-played Thursday night against the 4th-ranked Louisville Cardinals, losing 74-55 at Madison Square Garden. While a win against Rick Pitino’s team certainly wouldn’t have hurt, the Wildcats shouldn’t have to worry on Selection Sunday.
“I think we’ve got a good enough resume, but I haven’t followed it to know it well enough,” head coach Jay Wright said. “I have people around us that follow this very closely. I’ll get all the info…we’ll regroup Saturday and see where we are.”
Villanova’s biggest weakness this season has been turning the ball over on offense. They’re committing a turnover on 22.9 percent of their offensive possessions, the 35th highest rate out of the 347 Division I basketball teams in the country. Louisville, on the other hand, forces turnovers at a 27.6 percent clip on defense, good for 2nd in the country. Somehow the Wildcats found a way to beat the Cardinals in January, one of their several signature wins on the season that have helped them earn their at-large bid. However, with revenge on their minds and fresh legs after earning a double-bye in the Big East Tournament, Louisville made sure they wouldn’t lose to the ‘Cats a second time on Thursday night.
“ We’ve played well against good teams, but not tonight,” Wright said. “It stings that we didn’t perform well tonight, especially in the first half. It’s who we are. I thought playing St. Johns would prepare us, but these guys are at another level.”
The Wildcats were rarely in the game, and it was ugly from the start. The things they needed to do well didn’t happen as they turned it over 25 times, 18 in the first half alone, and shot an abysmal 2 of 12 from beyond the arc. As has been the case many times this year, it is hard for Jay Wright’s team to be competitive, especially against the country’s elite, when those two things don’t go well. Ryan Arcidiacono struggled in particular, going just 1 of 8 from the floor and finishing with 3 points.
While scoring can be a struggle for the Cardinals on occasion, it wasn’t an issue for them on Thursday. Louisville scored 27 points off turnovers. Russ Smith led all scorers with 28 points. Luke Hancock added 12 and Peyton Siva chipped in with 10.
Any chance the Wildcats had of a victory ended when the Cardinals went on an 8-2 run to open up a 30-21 lead at halftime, and scored 13 of the first 20 points in the second half to extend that advantage to 43-28.
For Villanova, the game was a stark reminder of just how sharp they’ll need to play in the NCAA Tournament if they are to avoid a quick exit. There were positives, however, as Senior Mouphtaou Yarou chipped in yet another double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds as he continued his solid play, and Sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston performed very well in his hometown, finishing with 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Also, as it has been for most of the season, the Wildcats’ interior defense was stellar once again. Even more encouraging was the heart Villanova showed, playing hard to the end and never giving up, even when faced with deficits greater than 20 points. The attitude that this relatively young group showed will be a huge bonus in the coming seasons as they mature.
The ‘Cats will now turn their attention to Selection Sunday to find out where they’re seeded and who they’ll be playing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. As they’ve done many times this season, it would not be surprising to see them bounce back with a tremendous performance in their next game, whoever it’s against.
“I know we’ll be playing in some postseason,” Wright said. “This group wants to keep playing, keep getting better. This one, you just have to swallow. It’s tough to take, but it’s part of life, part of college basketball.”Tags: Big East Tournament, Jay Wright, JayVaughn Pinkston, loss, Louisville, March Madness, Mouphtaou Yarou, NCAA, Rick Pitino, Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova