Villanova Wildcats: How They Got Here
The final act in March Madness is the Final Four. Villanova is back for the first time since 2018. See how coach Jay Wright got his team to New Orleans for the pursuit of a third national championship in the past six NCAA Tournaments.
The Wildcats fell behind Delaware by nearly 10 points in the early stages of this game. Whether due to nerves or the high quality of the Blue Hens’ performance in the first 15 minutes, Villanova was knocked off guard and had to find its bearings. The Wildcats did that late in the first half, and then they pulled away from Delaware in the second half. Villanova turned what could have been a very difficult afternoon into a comfortable victory, setting the right tone for the rest of its NCAA Tournament journey. In an NCAA Tournament in which another group of second-seeded Wildcats from Kentucky lost to a No. 15 seed from Saint Peter’s, Villanova made sure it did not fall victim to a 15 seed.
The Wildcats controlled nearly the whole game, but Ohio State mounted considerable resistance in the second half. The Buckeyes had a difficult regular season but played much better in the NCAA Tournament than at any point over the previous month leading up to March Madness. With just a few minutes left in regulation, Villanova had just a three-point lead despite dictating play the whole day. In the final minutes, however, VU sharpened its defense and made its free throws, two things this team has done well the whole season. Villanova has veteran players who know how to tend to the small details in high-stress situations. That proven experience carried the Wildcats past Ohio State and into the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats were not at their best, but neither was an 11th-seeded Michigan team which drifted for much of the season, then raised its level of play in early-round wins over Colorado State and Tennessee, but then couldn’t sustain the magic in the Sweet 16 in San Antonio. Villanova guard Collin Gillespie made key plays in this game. Gillespie was injured in last year’s Villanova loss to Baylor in the Sweet 16. He came back this season precisely to lift Villanova to a national championship and continue the Wildcats’ most prosperous decade in program history. He stepped up against Michigan, all while the Wolverines missed important free throws. Villanova’s free throw advantage over opponents remained intact in this contest. VU gained the benefit of winning despite not playing as well as it could have or should have.
Villanova made the Final Four by holding Houston under 50 points in a pure slugfest in which both defenses dominated. Villanova allowed just 20 points to Houston in the first half and built a seven-point halftime lead, which – in a game with fewer than 100 total points – felt like a 14-point lead. Houston did pull within two points late in the second half, but much like the Ohio State game, Villanova sharpened its defense in the final few minutes and returned to the Final Four for the first time in four years.