With the month of March comes great expectations and excitement for Villanova fans, especially when the men’s team is coming off a National Championship and is dubbed the number one overall seed for the NCAA Tournament. In all of this excitement, and the heartbreak provided by an early exit by the men’s team, the women’s Basketball team quietly made a run in the WNIT Tournament to salvage March.
Coming off of a year in which they lost five seniors, including four-year staples Caroline and Katherine Coyer, as well as Kavunaa Edwards, the future for the Wildcats was uncertain. There were a number of new pieces entering this season and young, returning players that needed to take bigger roles.
The untested Wildcats certainly suffered their bumps and bruises, starting the season off with a lackluster 4-8 record. They picked up steam and gained momentum, going 16-7 the rest of the way to finish 20-15 overall and 11-7 in the Big East. Along the way, Villanova enjoyed a pair of five-game winning streaks. The impressive turnaround wasn’t enough to secure a NCAA Tournament berth, but it did get a bid to the WNIT, What makes the Wildcats’ WNIT Final Four run even more impressive is that it was all done on the road.
The First Weekend
In the first round of the WNIT, Villanova faced off against Princeton. Despite poor shooting from behind the arc (6-of-30), ‘Nova capitalized on Princeton’s 19 turnovers and its inability to stand tall inside. The Wildcats outscored the Tigers 22-10 in the paint during the second half to make up for their abysmal shooting from three-point range. It also helped that the Wildcats only had two turnovers. This effort resulted in a 59-53 win to survive and advance to the second round of the tournament where the ‘Cats would face Philly rival, the Drexel Dragons.
‘Nova staved off a late comeback by the Dragons to notch another post-season win, 56-51. The Dragons held the Wildcats without a field goal for the final 9:36 of the game and cut an 18-point lead down to one in the last minute. This matchup was marked by prolonged scoring runs on both sides, with the Cats scoring the first 10 points of the game. Only to have the Dragons respond with a 11-0 spurt to end the first quarter and take the lead. This run continued in the second quarter, allowing the Dragons to take an 18-10 lead. The Wildcats woke up after Drexel’s 18-0 run, tying the game at 18. The first half ended with the Dragons up 23-22.
Villanova reached a turning point in the third quarter, outscoring Drexel 22-7, which included a 14-0 run as the Wildcats took a 44-27 lead. Drexel mounted a comeback, going on a 10-0 run to cut the Wildcat lead to single digits with 4:31 to play. Villanova hit four free throws down the stretch to stifle the Dragons comeback and set a date with James Madison in the third round.
The Second Weekend
Until the third round, ‘Nova had notched two close wins, but the game against James Madison proved to be a nail-biter overtime win by just one bucket, 69-67. The ‘Cats caught fire in the first half, outscoring the Dukes 9-0 from beyond the arc. Four Wildcats had at least two three-pointers in the first half, allowing them to take a 36-25 lead.
The Dukes went on an 11-2 run in the third quarter and outscored the Cats 17-8. The Dukes took their first lead with 5:09 to play in the fourth quarter, when Lexie Barrier hit a three. Nova rallied back and with 14 seconds left, junior guard Alex Louin hit a layup to give the Cats a one-point edge. JMU fouled the Cats three times in the last minute, but senior guard Precious Hall hit a game-tying buzzer beater to force overtime, in which the Cats would prevail to earn a hard fought win.
By defeating James Madison, the women’s team earned themselves a trip to Indiana to play the Hoosiers (23-11) in the WNIT Quarterfinals. The Wildcats shot 60 percent from the field in the first quarter, including 7-of-11 from three-point range on their way to a 69-57 win. The ‘Cats also hit 5-of-9 shots in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
As impressive as their offensive effort was, Villanova played great defense and limited Indiana’s ability to score. Indiana came out hot, hitting 9-of-16 in the first quarter, but the Hoosiers went cold, shooting a combined 15-for-47 over the last three quarters and scoring well below their season average.
The Final Four
With this win, the Wildcats marched on to the Final Four and a date with the Michigan Wolverines. The Wildcats would unfortunately lose a close game, 65-61. Despite Louin, Adriana Hahn and Samantha Wilkes all scoring in double figures, the Wildcats failed to take down Big Blue. The Wolverines led 17-11 after the first quarter, but the Wildcats closed the gap to a three-point deficit at the half, 29-26.
Hahn scored back-to-back threes to tie the score at 32, before Michigan scored 10 straight points and closed the third quarter on a 16-4 run. The Wolverines had a lead as large as 16 points in the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats went on a late 10-0 run to pull within five at 54-49 with 5:23 left. The Wildcats cut the lead to three with 12 seconds left in the game, but the Wolverines split a pair of free throws and held on for the win.
Despite the loss to Michigan, the young Wildcats team should be proud of their run. The team boasts a lot of youth and only has three seniors graduating–Wilkes, Jordan Dillard, and Karlie Crispin. With talented and experienced players like Louin and Hahn around for the next year or two, respectively, the Wildcats have a lot to look forward to with a majority of their core back in action.
They should also be excited about their freshmen prospects and the way they have developed this season. Freshman guard Kelly Jekot contributed significant minutes, averaging 22 minutes per game, and provided a spark off the bench with 6 points per game on average. Her classmate, Mary Gedaka, also provided significant minutes and averaged 5.3 points per game this season.
Head coach Harry Perretta entered this season with a lot of questions on how his team would do and how they would mesh on the court. With a deep WNIT run and a successful second half turnaround, he’s walking away with more answers than questions and already looking ahead to next season.