Villanova back in Elite 8 as 3s spoil W. Virginia pressure
By KYLE HIGHTOWER, AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — Villanova’s 3-point party rolled past the intense pressure of West Virginia to bring the Wildcats to the doorstep of another Final Four two seasons after winning a national championship.
The top-seeded Wildcats continued their outside feast in the NCAA Tournament, downing the fifth-seeded Mountaineers 90-78 on Friday night to earn their second trip to the regional finals in three seasons.
Jalen Brunson led Villanova with 27 points and Omari Spellman had 18 with eight rebounds as Villanova overcame the West Virginia press by hitting 13 of 24 shots from 3-point range.
Daxter Miles had 16 points to lead West Virginia. Jevon Carter and Sagaba Konate added 12 each.
Villanova (33-4) has now made 44 3-pointers for the tournament. The outside barrage helped the Wildcats overcome 16 turnovers and played into their Sweet 16 plan for their opponents nicknamed “Press Virginia”: Attack the stifling defense head-on.
“What a game, man. I hope that looked as good as it did from the bench, man,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “That was the most physically demanding, mentally draining 40 minutes we’ve played in a long time. They are so relentless.”
The Wildcats struggled at times, especially in the first half, but dug out of a six-point hole in the second half with an 11-0 run.
The Mountaineers (26-11) stayed close throughout, ramping up the pressure and making Villanova play faster than it wanted to early. But foul trouble throughout the second half was too much for West Virginia to overcome after it gave up the lead.
Carter was called for his third with 17:33 left in the game. That was followed by Miles being whistled for his third and fourth fouls over a two minute stretch that sent him to the bench with 15 minutes remaining.
Coach Bob Huggins said the fouls “absolutely” stifled the Mountaineers’ ability to keep pressure on Villanova.
“When the whistle keeps blowing it really takes away your aggression,” he said.
West Virginia adjusted for a while, taking advantage of a more than three-minute Villanova scoring drought to take a 60-54 edge with just over 11 minutes left.
But Villanova heated up again. Its 11-point run was capped by a thunderous block and dunk on the other end by Omari Spellman that pushed the Wildcats back in front 65-60.
The Wildcats kept the momentum going, stretching the lead to 76-66 on a 3-pointer by Brunson.
“The deeper you go, the better the teams are going to be,” Brunson said. “For us, most importantly, nothing changes no matter who we play, where we play, what time we play. We play every game like it’s our last.”
West Virginia never got closer than 4 points the rest of the way.
“I felt like we gave it everything we had,” Carter said. “We just didn’t make shots tonight and Villanova did.”
Villanova led 44-42 at the half after a fast-paced opening 20 minutes. Brunson led all scorers with 16 points in the half, with West Virginia getting 11 points from Daxter Miles.
The Wildcats came out firing, connecting on their first seven field goals. They handled the Mountaineers’ pressure well early. But the Wildcats had three turnovers over a 65-second stretch during an 8-0 Mountaineers run that put them in front 33-30.
Wright said he never lost faith in his team.
“I just looked at Jalen, Mikal (Bridges) and Phil (Booth) and I could see in their eyes we were good,” he said.
West Virginia: It’s a tough loss for the Mountaineers, but it doesn’t diminish the incredible effort by a senior class that reached the Sweet 16 three times in four years.
Villanova: The Wildcats are primed for another title run with their talent led by player of the year contender Brunson, the experience of the 2016 title and the lessons learned from early tournament departures in several years, including a second-round loss to Wisconsin last year.
The Wildcats’ 13 3-pointers give them 432 for the season, putting them 11 away from a Division I record. VMI hit 442 3-pointers in 2006-07.
Despite the outcome, Carter said he is proud of his classmates’ four-year run. Friday’s game marked the 10th career NCAA Tournament game for Carter and Miles — tying them for the most in school history.
Carter said the tournament will always mean a lot to both of them.
“It’s everything. Everybody is in tune with March Madness. I feel like it’s bigger than the NBA playoffs,” he said. “Anything can happen in March. … Unfortunately we lost in the Sweet 16.”
Villanova awaits the winner of Texas Tech and Purdue in Sunday’s regional final.
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