Villanova takes West Virginia's best shot, proves why it's a national title favorite

The Dagger

It was, as Jay Wright said at halftime, “complete chaos.” And that’s why it was the most impressive win of the 2018 NCAA tournament so far.

Top-seeded Villanova took West Virginia’s best shot on Friday night in the Sweet 16. But it took down the fifth-seeded Mountaineers, 90-78, with an irrepressible second-half run that showed just why the Wildcats are national title favorites.

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It was a 22-6 run by the time it had turned a six-point deficit into a 10-point Villanova lead. And it was, for a long time, difficult to foresee. Press Virginia had taken the Wildcats’ high-powered offense out of sync for around 29 minutes. But that high-powered offense then showed why it’s the nation’s best. It scored 29 points in eight-and-a-half minutes, and 36 over the final 11 minutes of the game, to send Nova to the Elite Eight.

“That’s the toughest game we ever played in, man,” Wright told TBS after the game. “That was the ultimate survive and advance.”

Jalen Brunson drives against West Virginia in Villanova’s Sweet 16 game on Friday night. (Getty)
Jalen Brunson drives against West Virginia in Villanova’s Sweet 16 game on Friday night. (Getty)

The “complete chaos” was mostly in the first half. There was chippiness. West Virginia’s press, and its combativeness, had Villanova stumbling. The Wildcats, typically as secure with the ball as any in the nation, turned the ball over nine times in the first 20 minutes.

“That was the most physical, physically demanding, mentally demanding 40 minutes we’ve played in a long time,” Wright later said at his postgame news conference. “They’re so relentless. They keep coming at you.”

But Villanova was also hitting its shots. It made its first six from the field. Jalen Brunson, despite being hounded by Jevon Carter, had 16 points in the first half. Both Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. had picked up their third fouls early in the second half. Miles ended up fouling out.

The Wildcats, however, went cold early in the second period. After Eric Paschall’s 3-pointer to open the half, they missed 10 of their next 11 shots. They continued to be plagued by turnovers. And West Virginia turned a five-point deficit into a six-point lead. The highlight was Sagaba Konate’s two-handed stuff of a Mikal Bridges dunk attempt:


Brunson, though, brought the Wildcats back. He scored four points himself, then picked up a loose ball, led the break, and set up Bridges for a go-ahead 3.


Omari Spellman then emphatically kept the Nova run going with a block on one end and a thunderous put-back slam on the other.


Paschall later got Konate back for his block on Bridges with another monstrous dunk to put Villanova up nine:


“I think we just had to get used to the physicality and the speed of their play,” Wright told TBS after the game, with his arm over the shoulder of Brunson. “I think we got more comfortable in the second half. We tried to get it in [Jalen’s] hands more. That always makes things look better.”

With the ball in Brunson’s hands, Villanova’s offense was darn near unstoppable over the final 11 minutes of the game. The junior guard had 27 points on 15 shots. And he was the stabilizing presence that enabled Nova to overcome West Virginia and advance to take on either Purdue or Texas Tech.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer and college basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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