INDIANAPOLIS (CBS/AP) — Jay Wright kept finding ways to help fifth-seeded Villanova advance in the NCAA Tournament. On Saturday, the two-time national champion coach finally ran out of answers.
The Wildcats’ stout defense wore down, their steady offense stalled and their worst half of the season was their last as they lost 62-51 to top-seeded Baylor in a South Region semifinal.
“They really got into our guards and prevented us from initiating offense,” Wright said. “They contested every pass, every cut, and it actually took us out of running offense. We had to drive the ball and get some post-ups and we didn’t do a very good job of that, but the credit goes to their defense.”
Injured captains Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree watched helplessly in street clothes, unable to stem the tide. Brandon Slater spent most of the final 10 minutes receiving treatment on his injured leg. Wright called timeouts to regroup and kept urging his team to find a way to turn things around after 30 minutes of solid basketball.
But it was easy to dissect how Villanova blew a 30-23 halftime lead.
The Wildcats missed all nine of their 3-point attempts in the second half and finished 3 of 17, their second fewest made all season. Villanova was a dreadful 5 of 44 from beyond the arc in two games at Hinkle Fieldhouse this season — the first was a loss to Butler.
After a superior defensive first half, the Wildcats allowed 39 points after the break while matching a season low by scoring only 21.
Plus, under the constant pressure of Baylor’s in-your-face defense, Villanova had 16 turnovers — one short of a season high. Five came on consecutive possessions during the key stretch when Baylor (25-2) scored eight straight to retake the lead. The Bears never trailed again.
“We got sped up a little,” said Jermaine Samuels, who led Villanova with 16 points but was limited to four shots in the final 20 minutes. “During those times you have to be good with the ball. We weren’t good with the ball and we got spread out in transition.”
The offense never really recovered, and when Slater exited with 9:37 to play the defense wilted, too.
This time, against one of the title favorites, Wright couldn’t devise a way out.
“We can learn a lot from this,” Wright said. “You play a good opponent like Baylor, a great opponent and you give them credit and learn from them. Their defensive intensity, their ability to take care of the basketball on the offensive end, that’s what it takes to advance.”
Meanwhile, in Villanova, the game offered students a chance to safely get together and cheer on their team. An outdoor party on campus seemed to lift spirits, even if the Wildcats didn’t pull out the win.
“To be here and like have not just my friends but a crowd such as this, I think it’s kind of magical,” Michael Oberschewen said.
There were big screen TVs, the band and speakers loud enough to shake the ground at Mendel Field.
“With a small group of friends, you can get some energy going, but with everyone here, every single play made on the floor, there’s a reaction to it,” James Plisky said. “It’s a good time.”
There was a sea of blue supporting the Wildcats for the Sweet 16 game against Baylor.
“The first half was great. The whole season was great,” Ryan Forte said. “When we lost our best guy in Gillespie, it was really tough. The guys did a great job in the previous two games. Just couldn’t make it out against a really good Baylor team today.”
Students used the opportunity to get back in the basketball spirit, cheering on the Wildcats as loud as they could.
“They played a good season. It was definitely a good first half,” Rob Murray said. “They fell off a little bit, but they definitely tried their hardest. You could see it.”
Unfortunately, the Wildcats won’t be moving to the next round.
“It was tough. We just couldn’t hit a three all half and we fell apart after that,” Edward Oakley said.
“The whole community is here. It would’ve been great to see them win, but you know, next year,” Sarah Ager said.
“We’re really sad. Villanova put up a good fight, so we’re definitely really sad,” Joe Adams said.
Sad, but safe. Everyone was socially distanced in small groups and following Villanova’s health and safety guidelines by wearing masks.
“They wanted to put the community first health-wise and morale wise,” Katharine Marriott said, “and they wanted to keep up hyped for March Madness while still keeping us safe.”
CBS3’s Alecia Reid contributed to this report
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)