It was the day that every Villanova fan across the nation was waiting for. The opening day of the NCAA Tournament and the beginning of March Madness. There were a number of upsets throughout the day as Wildcat fans anxiously waited for the 9:25 p.m. scheduled tip-off time. For the fans, the excitement was put on hold, and for the players they could not get their pregame routines started just yet. The UConn-St. Joseph’s game ran into overtime where UConn were able to put St. Joe’s away for good this season. No hopes for another Holy War this season, thanks to UConn.
The game started off in a fashion that was similar to the Butler game on Villanova’s Senior Night. Neither team was able to hit a shot and really get themselves going. There were a large number of misses on both sides. One reason for that was because of Villanova’s great defense. The Wildcats were able to keep the Panthers in check throughout the whole game. It was obvious from the start that Villanova was able to limit what Milwaukee could do. Despite the fact that they were being beaten on the boards early in the game, the defense was there to play. Milwaukee’s top scorer, Jordan Aaron, did not score a single point during the first half. However, offensively, the struggles from the Seton Hall game seemed to still haunt them. They could not knock down the open looks from the perimeter and shots just would not fall through the hoop. Due to the struggling offenses on both sides, the game was very close early on. Milwaukee was able to take control of the game when J.J. Panoske sunk a three pointer to give the Panthers their first lead of the game with just over eight minutes to go in the first half. They had the Wildcats on upset alert. Milwaukee was able to establish a five point lead, but it was temporary. A James Bell layup with 1:35 remaining in the first half gave the Wildcats the lead once again. The Wildcats took a 27-23 lead into halftime. One of the staggering statistics of the first half was the three point shooting for Villanova. The Wildcats were 0 for 12 from beyond the arc. During the first half, both teams didn’t have a pretty shooting percentage overall. Milwaukee shot 27.3% on the floor and Villanova made 30.3% of their shots.
With the threes not falling, the Wildcats were forced to take a different approach. They were able to attack the basket and score inside. More importantly, they were knocking down free throw attempts. Villanova was 13 for 16 in free throw shooting for the night. The Wildcats capitalized on and-one attempts and were not going to allow another mediocre free throw shooting percentage to happen again. Milwaukee could not keep up with the onslaught from inside. The Wildcats scored 46 points from inside the paint for the whole game, a far cry from what they usually like to do. They got down and dirty and got the job done inside. With just under four minutes remaining, Daniel Ochefu provided a highlight reel monster dunk off of a nice feed by Kris Jenkins. The success from driving and attacking the interior did not mean that Villanova completely abandoned the shots from long range. In fact, the Wildcats were able to break the dry spell from downtown thanks to Jenkins. He was able to knock down a three pointer with 12:01 remaining. Before Jenkins’ three, the Wildcats were 0 for 16 from long range. Villanova maintained a healthy lead for most of the second half, building upon it and ultimately cruising to victory. The final score was 73-53.
For Villanova, Darrun Hilliard had a team-high 16 points. Hilliard is now just three points away from reaching the 1,000 point mark. A feat that was also achieved this season by two other Wildcats (Bell and Pinkston). JayVaughn Pinkston finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds. It was a block party for Villanova tonight, and he had three of the ten blocks. James Bell chipped in 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. The freshmen, Jenkins and Josh Hart had another productive game off the bench. The two combined for 22 points (11 points each) and 10 rebounds (Hart had seven).
For Milwaukee, Austin Arians was the leading scorer with 17 points. He provided four baskets from long range and also five rebounds. Matt Tiby added 10 points and 4 rebounds. Jordan Aaron, their leading scorer was practically not a factor in the game. He was held to only 6 points and shot 1 for 15 on the floor.
The Wildcats will take on the UConn Huskies in an old Big East matchup. Tip-off is slated for 9:40 p.m., hopefully the game before them will not have any overtime shenanigans. Villanova improves to a 29-4 record.