BOSTON (AP) — Villanova leveled opponents with a barrage of offense in notching its first three NCAA Tournament wins. But it turned out the Wildcats would need their defense to show up to earn their second trip to the Final Four in three seasons.
BOSTON (AP) — Villanova leveled opponents with a barrage of offense in notching its first three NCAA Tournament wins.
But it turned out the Wildcats would need their defense to show up to earn their second trip to the Final Four in three seasons.
On a night in which the Wildcats shot its lowest field goal percentage of the season, they turned one of their best defensive efforts in their 71-59 Elite Eight win over Texas Tech on Sunday.
Villanova came into the matchup averaging 87 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field. With 44 3-pointers, it also entered the afternoon just 11 3s shy of setting a new Division I, single-season record.
But Sunday the Wildcats shot just 19 of 57 from the field against the Red Raiders, while making only four shots from beyond the arc. The field goal percentage was Villanova's lowest since 2015.
It was clear they were going to have to find another way to win. They found it on the defensive side of the ball.
"We played a really tough basketball team that had us scouted extremely well, took away our 3s, really tested our ability to play tough and ugly," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
After falling into early 9-1 hole Villanova held Texas Tech to just 23 points in the opening 20 minutes — a season-low for a half for the Red Raiders.
"We were struggling from the outside. We grinded on the defensive end and that's what helped us pull this one out," Villanova guard Jalen Brunson said. "It was just grinding on the defensive end and not really worrying about our shots falling or not. ... Just really trying to stick together."
The Wildcats also notched six steals and outrebounded Texas Tech 51-33, including a 31-22 defensive rebounding edge. It limited the Red Raiders' second-chance opportunities and left them playing catch-up throughout the second half.
Villanova forward Eric Paschall, who finished with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, said he and his teammates took pride in winning such a physical game.
"It means a lot to us. Just to know that we could tough a game out like that," he said. "They're a very talented team. Their defense is great. They have some talented offensive players. Just to be able to do that with my brothers out there is, again, a blessing. ... We worked hard all year. We did a great job of it, and we just kept getting better. So it shows that we can fight through a lot. We keep playing for each other."
Wright said the seeds of Sunday's defensive effort might have its roots in the Wildcats' first loss of the season — a 101-93 setback at Butler at the end of December.
The coaching staff knew after that game it was clear that offense alone would not be enough to carry this team to where it wanted to be by season's end.
"That kind of was a slap in the face to us," Wright said. "We said at that time, we're not going to just change this — it's going to take time. It's going to go back to basics. It's going to take a lot of time. ... And it's starting to pay off now at the right time."
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