Wildcats Keep Dancing, Hawks Run Ends

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Villanova 87, Iowa 68

People wondered how the Wildcats would react in a game sending the winner to the Sweet 16, a level the Villanova program had failed to reach since to 2009. With early round disappointments each year piling up, questions continued to hound the team about why they couldn’t get over that hump. Would the pressure be too much for the Cats?

The answer was an emphatic “no”, as Villanova played about as perfect a first half as you could imagine. Jay Wright’s squad set a school record for points in a half in a tournament game, dropping 54 on 61% shooting. They also playing stifling defense on the Hawkeyes and held a 12-0 advantage in points off turnovers heading into the locker room.

Coming out of the gate in the second half, the Wildcats extended the lead to as many as 34 points before the natural lethargy of the game essentially being over turned things into a bit of a snorefest over the final 10+ minutes. By the final whistle, Villanova had “cooled off” and finished the game shooting 59.3% from the field, and 10-19 (52.6%) from three.

Josh Hart led the Wildcats with 19 points on 7-11 shooting. Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson each scored in double figures while adding 4 assists a piece, and Kris Jenkins chipped in 15 points and 6 assists. Big man Daniel Ochefu was quiet offensively, but provided the backbone of a stifling defense that shut down everything Iowa tried to do for the first 30 minutes; he finished with 11 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks.

With the Sweet 16 monkey off the backs, the Wildcats can turn their attention to the ultimate goal of a national championship, a journey that continues Thursday night against #3 Miami. If you think you’re excited, you didn’t see Jay Wright in the locker room after the game.

That’s a man excited about not having to answer any more questions about not advancing past the second round of the tournament.

#1 Oregon 69, #8 Saint Joseph’s 64

For a while, it looked like Hawks were going to pull off the upset. Fighting back from as many as 10 points down in the second half, an 8-0 run by St. Joseph’s gave them a 58-51 lead with a little over 5 minutes remaining in the game and a berth in the Sweet 16. Unfortunately for Hawks fans in Spokane and back in Philadelphia, Dillon Brooks and his Ducks teammates had other ideas.

After the Hawks took that largest lead of the game for them, Brooks converted a three-point play, 3 of his game-high points, igniting a 18-6 Oregon run to end the game. DeAndre Bembry briefly put St. Joe’s ahead by one with a pair of free throws with a minute and half left, but Brooks answered again with a huge three (he finished 4-7 from behind the arc). Still down just two, the Hawks were forced into a shot clock violation on the next possession, a sequence I’m sure they’ll be thinking about a lot over the long summer. From there, they could never get over the hump in the fouling/quick basket game as the final seconds ticked away.

In a lot of ways, it was the exact formula Phil Martelli’s squad needed to knock off the #1 Ducks. The Hawks played excellent defense, holding Oregon to below 70 points for just the 6th time this season. St. Joe’s even got some scoring from the supporting cast, as Aaron Brown, Lamarr Kimble, and Shavar Newkirk all finished in double figures.

Uncharacteristically, with the Oregon defense focused on stopping them, it was the two Hawks’ stars that had an off night. Bembry finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but shot just 5-15 from the field. Meanwhile, Isaiah Miles was held to 8 points on 3-10 shooting; he also committed two offensive fouls in the first 5 minutes that sidelined him for much of the first half. The pair combined to go 0-7 from behind the arc, an area where the Ducks had struggled to defend this season. The duo fought hard all game long, but needed to be great if the Hawks were going to pull off the upset. It was just the worst possible time for them both to have an off night.

All in all, terrific season for the Hawks. Phil Martelli’s squad exceeded all expectations, remaining in the mix for the regular season A-10 title until the final week, and then storming through the conference tournament on their way to that championship. In the Big Dance, the game against Cincinnati was a memorable finish for the ages, and the Hawks would acquit themselves well against a big program like Oregon. With Bembry leaving early for the NBA and Miles graduating, it will be up to the young guys to build on this season and postseason experience heading into next season.

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