itation: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Villanova: 86 – UNC-Asheville: 56
On a first round Friday filled with big-time upsets and end of game drama, the Villanova Wildcats took care of business wearing down the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs over the course of 40 minutes, overwhelming them early in the second half and running away with the game late. The Wildcats opened the day with the first game of Session I at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and the 12:40 PM tip resulted in a scarce crowd on had early to watch the start of the 2 vs. 15 matchup. As the game progressed, the crowd began to fill in at the Barclays, but the Wildcats were able to produce there own energy from the tip, jumping out to an early 8-0 lead due to their ability to shoot the three and quickly set up in a 1-2-2 zone press to slow the opposing team back down the court. The highlight plays started early for the Cats and didn’t slow throughout the game. From defensive pressure and steals turning into fast break dunks, to back-side alley-oops behind the zone, the Wildcats flexed their muscles on the Bulldogs and maintained control for much of the game despite a lull in their shooting effort during the middle of the first half.
The Wildcats took over late in the first half with a 6-0 run to end the half on back-to-back threes to pull away from the Bulldogs at the break. The momentum shifted to the Wildcats favor when Jalen Brunson banged a three followed by a Ryan Arcidiacono three at the halftime buzzer as Villanova took a 14 point lead into the halftime break and never looked back. Early in the second half, Villanova stretched the lead to 20 points behind the inside play of Daniel Ocehfu and a few open three-point looks from Kris Jenkins. The defensive pressure of Phil Booth and the length of Mikal Bridges proved to be too much for UNC-Asheville, as Bridges was able to convert steals into easy buckets at the other end. The Wildcats extended the lead to a comfortable 30 points over the course of the second half, and the bench mob even received some playing time during the final two minutes of this opening round NCAA tournament game. The bench erupted when senior walk-on Pat Farrell drilled his second three-pointer of the season during the final minute right in front of the Villanova bench, a shot that summed up how the game was going for Villanova.
The X-factor for the game was Villanova big-man Daniel Ochefu who dominated the paint en route to a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The size of Ochefu was simply too much for UNC-Asheville to handle from the tip. Ochefu demonstrated great touch in the paint, displaying hook shots using both his left and right hands throughout the game. His size and dominance on the block was too much for Asheville to overcome, as they couldn’t stop him in the paint or control him on the glass.
The Villanova Wildcats came out on top in this game by overwhelming UNC-Asheville with their size and shooting ability, wearing them down as the game progressed. The Wildcats shared the ball throughout the game, racking up 21 assists on 33 field goals. The hot shooting of Villanova proved to be too much for UNC-Asheville, despite the fact that the Bulldogs entered the game as the best defensive team in the country statistically against the three-point field goal. The hot shooting of the Cats was too much to overcome as Villanova shot 58% from the field and 46% from three accounting for a total of 13 three-point field goals.
The size and skill of the 2 seeded Villanova Wildcats was too much for UNC-Asheville to handle as there upset-bid had very little life throughout the game. The Wildcats were impressive, but they must move on to the next round as nothing will matter if the Wildcats are unable to advance out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season despite entering as a top seed
The star of the game was senior captain Daniel Ochefu who provided a double-double for the Wildcats with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Ochefu was more or less a non-factor last weekend at the Big East Tournament as he was battling an ankle injury he suffered in practice leading up to the Big East Tournament and was nowhere near 100% in the Big East. He bounced back nicely during this first round of the NCAA tournament, and seems to be nearing 100% in response to his ankle injury.
Josh Hart proved to be the Dud of the Game after being the most consistent player for Villanova all season. Hart produced only 9 points, one of the few games this season in which he was unable to score double-figure points. Hart also only shot 4/10 from the field, a percentage that is slightly off from his usual high efficiency and production. Look for Hart to bounce back in a big way on the offensive end on Sunday against the Iowa Hawkeyes
The stat of the night was the Villanova three-point shooting, as the Wildcats connected on 13 of their 28 attempts from behind the arc for a scorching 46%. The Wildcats also shot the ball efficiently from two-point range combining for an overall shooting percentage of 58% on 33 of 57 shooting. Hot shooting is going to be key to a deep run in March for the Wildcats as Villanova is a guard-oriented team that relies on the outside shot to carry the scoring load for the number 2 seeded Wildcats. The Wildcats were able to ride their hot shooting to their 30th win of the season, running their overall season record to 30 and 5 for the year.
The Wildcats move on to face the number 7 seeded Iowa Hawkeyes who are coming off a last-second overtime win over the Temple Owls on Friday. Although many may have hoped for a Philadelphia Big 5 rematch between the Temple Owls and the Villanova Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA tourney, the Hawkeyes were able to pull one out at the buzzer on a questionable push off and put back by Hawkeye big-man Adam Woodbury that went uncalled. A key matchup to watch throughout the game will be the matchup between the big men with Iowa’s Adam Woodbury squaring off with Villanova big-man Daniel Ochefu. Both are coming off strong first round performances and will be key for their teams on the glass in the second round showdown. If the Cats are able to knockdown shots, it will be difficult for the Iowa to keep up with the hot shooting that Villanova was able to get started during their opening game of the NCAA tournament. For Villanova, the pressure is on as the Wildcats have been unable to advance out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2009, including early exits the past two seasons as a number 2 seed and number 1 seed respectively. The Wildcats notched their 30th win of the season, But everyone in the locker room knows that the season will be defined by what happens during the next two weeks in March. Coach Jay Wright and senior leaders Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu know what is at stake for Villanova and hope to carry their confidence and experience from previous seasons into the second round game in order to get over the hump and ride the momentum into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. The experience of the Cats will carry them through a hard-fought game with Iowa, as the Cats will rise to the occasion and takedown the Hawkeyes 68-60 in a battle between two of the best from the Big Ten and Big East.