'Nova on the Loss to KU

DETROIT — Villanova pulled off one of the great comebacks in the NCAA tournament when the Wildcats rallied from an 18-point first-half deficit to upset Clemson, 75-69, in the first round.

‘Nova got off to another slow start against Kansas in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, down 28-13 with 9:48 remaining in the first half. The Wildcats closed to within 28-21 before KU went on a 13-1 run to lead by 19 at halftime.

This time, the Wildcats (22-13) could not muster a thrilling comeback as KU won big, 72-57, and advanced to the Elite Eight.

“It’s been our way (slow start) this year, and we knew it would eventually catch up with us,” said junior forward Dwayne Anderson. “Tonight it did. When both teams are tired it comes down to who wants it more. Fatigue showed and they pushed a little more than we did, and we were never able to come back.”

Fatigue showed in the Wildcats’ poor shooting. They shot just 26.7 percent from the field in the first half and 35.6 percent for the game. Villanova also couldn’t stop KU’s running game; the Wildcats were outscored 19-2 on fastbreak points. Star guard Scottie Reynolds was also not a factor, scoring just 11 points on four of 13 shooting. He also committed four turnovers.

“It hurts because we’ve been through so much this season,” Anderson said. “Most people didn’t think we’d make it this far. We went on a five-game win streak, but it’s unfortunate we came up short.”

Villanova head coach Jay Wright lauded the Jayhawks after the game.

“We played a great team,” Wright said. “I told him (KU coach Bill Self) he’s got a lot of big-time players that play the game the right way. They play for Kansas. They don’t play for the name on the back of their jersey. It was very evident tonight.

“What we feared was not being able to score. We were going to need to make threes against them (3-17 from three-point range). We needed Scottie and Dante (Cunningham, 10 points). They just did a great job defensively. We give them a lot of credit. We wished them luck.”

Reynolds talked about the stellar KU defense, and his difficulty scoring the ball and getting his teammates involved.

“On ball screens, they were double-teaming, trying to get the ball out of my hands,” he said. “And sometimes I was just forcing the issue a little bit too much, trying to get into the lane, trying to find a teammate. A couple of times I was playing with the ball too much. They’re quick guys, so you can’t play with the ball. You have to make one move and get into the lane. They did a great job of just forcing me around the perimeter.”

Kansas did a sound job on all the Villanova players.

“They are a good defensive team and they did a great job of flying at our shooters and making us take some tough shots,” said sophomore guard Reggie Redding. “We have played a lot of good teams this season, bu they are probably one of the better teams we have played all year.”

It certainly didn’t help Villanova that Kansas came out strong, hitting 10 of its first 12 shots. Russell Robinson hit three treys and Brandon Rush swished a three in helping key KU’s 28-13 start. KU was seven of 14 from three-point range the first half, and shot 59.3 percent from the field.

“The threes hurt us early,” Wright said. “Russell Robinson hitting those threes early hurt. Rush hit one deep at the end. Early, he hit one really deep, (and also) came across the lane, banked one in. When a team that good is making those kind of shots, it’s going to be tough. I didn’t think we were that bad defensively in the first half. ... They’re just a good team. They’re playing very well right now. They’re playing with confidence. Everyone’s filling their role.”

“We got some great looks in the first half,” Wright added. “We had some layups, some threes and didn’t make them. You go to have everything work for you. We had to play our best game. We didn’t tonight. I was a little disappointed in our effort, but you’ve got to give Kansas credit for that.”

The Villanova players indeed showered KU with praise in the locker room afterwards. And despite the loss, they were proud of their season. The Wildcats lost five straight games in late January and early February, but turned their season around and won five of six games before falling to Kansas.

“We never quit all year,” Redding said. “We fought all the way to the end and I think we showed a lot of toughness. I think we proved that we are going to go out there and compete in every game.”

Wright and his young Wildcats (‘Nova started two freshmen and a sophomore) now wait for next season.

“This is going to help us,” Wright said. “We’re going to learn a lot from this game.”

“We’re excited for next year,” Anderson added.

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