Villanova avoids another hiccup

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Villanova's Josh Hart (center), Milwaukee's Kyle Kelm vie for a loose ball during the first half. 'Nova's Ryan Arcidiacono is at right.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Villanova's Josh Hart (center), Milwaukee's Kyle Kelm vie for a loose ball during the first half. 'Nova's Ryan Arcidiacono is at right.
Posted: March 21, 2014

BUFFALO, N.Y. - The outcome was not in doubt, not really. That is true, along with the fact that style points are not awarded to participants in the NCAA Tournament. The numbers on the scoreboard are all that matter, and the numbers said Villanova 73, Milwaukee 53. Those are the only relevant facts and the rest of this is simply conversation.

With that, let's talk. First, let's remember that the Wildcats sleepwalked through the start of their Big East quarterfinal game against Seton Hall last week and lost. And let's recall that the 15th-seeded Milwaukees played about as badly as you can play on the offensive end to start the game last night - missing 19 out of their first 24 shots, turning over the ball five times - and still led the Wildcats by 13-10 after more than 13 minutes of the first half had been played. They led by 21-16 after more than 15 minutes and Villanova coach Jay Wright was forced into the indignity of calling a timeout to halt the momentum against his team.

And, finally, let's acknowledge that if Seton Hall was a hiccup, two hiccups make a trend, and if the Wildcats come out flat again tomorrow against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32 - if they come out and miss their first 16 three-point shots again; that is not a misprint: 16! - they are going home.

They all know this, too. It would be impossible for them not to know it. It was on their minds after the Seton Hall loss in the Big East. Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono was asked about it in his press conference that day and he admitted the obvious. He said, "In the NCAA Tournament, it's one and done. We have to bring it right from start. We can't have Coach call a quick time out. We have to bring it. It comes from practice every day and just going at each other."

The words just kind of lay there now.

Arcidiacono talked about it that day. Wright talked about it that day. The coach said his task after Seton Hall would be to design a series of practices to get his team's edge back - not to dwell on the bad stuff but, instead, to use it as a kind of sharpening mechanism. And by all accounts, Wright was happy with where things stood as they threw up the ball last night in the second half of a Big 5 doubleheader at First Niagara Center.

In the first game, Saint Joseph's had sweat blood with its short roster and eventually lost an agonizing overtime game to UConn. Now it was time for the Wildcats - and they just kind of stood there. The No. 2 seed in the East Region, a team with hopes of a long run in the tournament, a run that would take them from here to Madison Square Garden and maybe beyond - and they just kind of stood there. The Panthers were truly dreadful at the start of the game and the Wildcats seemed determined to match them, dread for dread.

It is a common enough phenomenon, for a team seeded up near where Villanova is to take a few minutes to find its legs. But this did not seem to be that. They looked sluggish against Seton Hall and they looked sluggish here. They shot the ball terribly at the start against Seton Hall and they shot the ball terribly at the start here.

Wright would point out against Seton Hall that Villanova did compete well and hard after the bad start and just got beat by a big shot at the end. In this game, he will be able to point out how the Wildcats again turned up the defensive intensity after the initial funk, and how they then imposed their will on the Panthers.

But, well, the fun's over. Because what happened more than anything against Milwaukee is that Villanova's obvious advantage in size and athleticism eventually showed. But here is the thing: This is likely the last game in the tournament where the Wildcats will have that kind of pronounced advantage. Starting with UConn, their old Big East brother, everything changes. Everything gets harder.

For Villanova, a team that suddenly makes you wonder a little bit, this is the last time that simply hanging around will get it done.


On Twitter: @theidlerich


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