By John Fanta
BOSTON – Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” was rolling on its country roads. Rarely do you see Villanova get rattled, but a steal and score by Jevon Carter forced Jay Wright’s hand.
The Wildcats’ head coach needed a timeout, and the Mountaineer fans were in a frenzy. With 11:08 on the clock, West Virginia led 60-54. It appeared that it would take everything out of Villanova to find a way to win the game.
Suddenly, in a span of two minutes, the press turned to dust. Those country roads cracked. Villanova turned the game upside down, surging out to an 11-0 run and not turning back en route to a 90-78 victory. The Mountaineers learned the hard way about a program that’s gone 162-21 in the last five years, as Wright’s Cats advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.
“That was the most physical, physically demanding, mentally demanding 40 minutes we’ve played in a long time,” said Wright. “West Virginia’s so relentless. They keep coming at you.”
The Villanova run was spearheaded by Jalen Brunson, who scored three straight points before Eric Paschall tied the game with a pair of free throws. After a Mikal Bridges triple vaulted the Wildcats into the lead, freshman Omari Spellman rejected a shot and then slammed home a transition dunk. It was only a 5-point Villanova edge, but felt like so much more.
“That’s our leadership,” said Wright when asked about the quick comeback from six points down. “I just looked at Jalen, Mikal, and Phil, and I could see in their eyes we were good. We were good. If I didn’t, if I looked in their eyes and saw fear or worry, I would have maybe went a little crazy, but I didn’t.”
The steady hand throughout a night that featured adversity was Brunson, who finished with 27 points on 8-of-15 from the field and four assists.
“I always say he’s the most mature guy in our program,” said Wright of the Naismith Award finalist. “It’s the truth.”
While Brunson spearheaded the press-break, Spellman gave the Wildcats the frontline dimension that Villanova had in 2016 with Daniel Ochefu. The BIG EAST Freshman of the Year put up 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks.
“It was definitely a signature Villanova Basketball win,” said Spellman. “Digging, scratching, and clawing it out. That’s what we do.”
By the Numbers
- Villanova’s defense made the proper adjustments. After WVU shot 48 percent in the first stanza, the Mountaineers faltered to just 31 percent in the second half.
- The Wildcats shot 13-of-24 from three-point land, while the Mountaineers went just 7-of-28.
- West Virginia star Jevon Carter was outdone by Brunson. The Mountaineer senior was held to 12 points on 5-of-16 from the field and 1-of-5 from three-point land. Brunson had 27 points and four assists.