Hilliard fuels Wildcats’ run
Villanova fends off No. 15 seed to set up old-Big East reunion
For at least 20 minutes, Milwaukee made Villanova sweat.
But eventually, the seedings held true late Thursday night into this morning at First Niagara Center.
Darrun Hilliard had 16 points, JayVaughn Pinkston added 13 and the No. 2-seed Wildcats withstood an early scare from the No. 15 Panthers to earn a 73-53 win and a spot in the NCAA Tournament round of 32. Next up for Villanova will be the rekindling of an old Big East rivalry – against UConn on Saturday – with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
There had to be brief flashes of déjà vu for the Wildcats during the first half Thursday. The last time they held a No. 2 seed, in 2010, they needed overtime to avoid a monumental upset at the hands of 15th-seeded Robert Morris.
The Panthers had the night owls inside First Niagara thinking about that possibility midway through the first half, as back-to-back three-pointers by Austin Arians forced Villanova coach Jay Wright to call a timeout with his team trailing, 21-16.
Nova started the game just 3 of 20 from the field Thursday – perhaps taking a bit longer to warm up in a game that tipped off at 10 p.m.
After Wright’s timeout, however, the Wildcats closed the first half on an 11-2 run, with Hilliard providing the much-needed offensive spark. He scored seven points during the run – part of his 11 in the first half – going 4 of 8 from the field while his teammates were 6 of 25.
Nova opened the second half with a pair of buckets and a free throw from forward Pinkston to take a 32-23 lead. The lead would vacillate between five and eight points for the next several minutes, until a pretty fadeaway jumper from Arians pulled the Panthers within four, 37-33, with 13:16 left in the game. With the crowd again pulling for an upset bid, Milwaukee had a couple good looks to make it a one-possession game, but blew layups.
That was a problem all night – the Panthers shot just 29 percent (18 of 63) from the field. Like Villanova, Milwaukee was equally sleep at the start. The Horizon League champions didn’t get their first points until almost 5 minutes had passed, on a three-pointer from Matt Tibby.
The three ball is what kept the Panthers in the game in the first half. Milwaukee was 5 of 14 (36 percent), with Arians hitting three of those, while Nova went an ugly 0 for 12. The Wildcats’ first three-pointer didn’t fall until Kris Jenkins ended a string of 17 straight misses with 11:59 to go in the game. That put the Wildcats up, 42-33, and the lead stretched to as many as 20 in the dying minutes