Villanova passes test vs. Virginia, shows they can still win with defense

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Time will tell if Donte DiVincenzo’s improbable buzzer beating tip-in giving Villanova a stunning 61-59 win over Virginia at a raucous Wells Fargo Center Sunday proves to be anywhere near as memorable as the last time the Cats won when the horn went off.

Because all that Kris Jenkins shot did was win them the National Championship.

But Jay Wright will gladly take this one too, figuring if nothing else, a game like this should sharpen their skills for when they finally try to defend their title in March. Especially when the 20-2 Wildcats’ still stinging from squandering a 13-point lead in the last six minutes in a 74-72 loss at Marquette couldn’t make a shot the entire first half.

Not only that, but leading scorers Josh Hart and Jenkins were a combined 0-for-the building over the first 32-plus minutes against the 16-3 No. 12 ranked Cavaliers, who returned three starters from a team that reached the Elite 8. Yet Wright kept them in the lineup because rather than sulk about the shots not falling they put their effort into the defensive end of the floor.

“Shooters have to do other things to remain in the game,”said Wright after the Wildcats shrugged off an abominable 4-for-22, 18.2 percentfirst half by going 6-for-6 from 3-point range in the second. “If he’s just a shooter but not defending, rebounding or passing, you can’t keep him in.

“When guys like that don’t get their points, sometimes they slip defensively, or their leadership slips. But Josh and Kris brought their leadership and their defense to another level. That’s what our program’s been about.”

Villanova can win with offense and with defense. And that’s what matters most in March.

“I’ve got to focus on different things” Hart said,”playing a opponent like Virginia. At halftime I told the guys that if we all buy in and play 20 minutes of Villanova basketball we’d be in the game at the end. And the game comes down to the last possession.”

I t was DiVincenzo , the 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman who played eight games last year before a broken bone in his foot prematurely ended his season, who broke UVA’sheart. He came flying in unchecked to tip it around the rim and in, replay confirming the ball left his hand with 0.2 seconds remaining.

“I wasn’t worried about that,” said DiVincenzo, whose hoop assured Villanova wouldn’t lose back-to-back games for the first time since 2013. “If it didn’t go in, we had overtime. If it did go in, great.”

Once the spontaneous celebration died down, Wright talked about how valuable a game like this can be in the long run for the No. 4 ranked Cats who fell from their perch on top.

“We have so much respect for their team and their program,” said Wright, whose club gets back to Big East business Wednesday at Providence. “We were looking forward to this game and knew that we’d be tested. The way they guarded us, the way executed their offense, we’re gonna learn so much from this game — even if we’d lost.”

They didn’t lose, of course, thanks to another buzzer beater. While Jenkins’ shot will always stand alone, time will tell whether Donte DiVincenzo’s winning tip is a harbinger of things to come for the Wildcats who’ll soon try to become the first team since Florida in 2007 to successfully defend their crown.

For Villanova, March can’t get here soon enough.

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