When it ended, it ended with a thud.
Villanova’s 2021 NCAA Tournament run ended Saturday afternoon with a 62-51 loss to top-seeded Baylor in a South Region semifinal game at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
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Baylor outscored Villanova 29-12 over the last 13 1/2 minutes.
Just reaching the Sweet 16 for the third time in the last five tournaments and the seventh time under Jay Wright (and 20th time in school history) is remarkable, considering co-Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie’s season-ending left knee injury.
Villanova finished 19-6 this year, going 2-3 without Gillespie.
Here’s our 10 Instant Observations off Villanova’s loss:
1. Turnovers killed the Wildcats, and that’s not something you hear very often. Villanova is one of the best in the country every year at protecting the ball. This year, they were No. 2 in Division 1 in assist/turnover ratio and they averaged only 8.8 turnover per game. Saturday, they committed seven turnovers just in a 4:56 stretch from 10:32 left in the game to 5:36 left, and that stretch – seven turnovers in nine possessions – allowed Baylor to take control. Villanova led 41-39 when that stretch began and trailed 50-43 when it ended. In all, Villanova committed 16 turnovers, their most in their last 21 NCAA tournament games. They committed 16 in a loss to UConn in 2014.
2. Villanova still led by six at 39-33 with 13:30 left, but Baylor – which was terrible from 3 the whole game - began pounding the ball inside and really started rolling. When Villanova lost 6-6 forward Brandon Slater with an ankle injury midway through the second half, the Wildcats really had no answer when Baylor attacked the rim.
3. The Wildcats have been up-and-down all year from 3, but they were a miserable 3-for-17 Saturday. That’s the fewest 3’s they’ve made in an NCAA Tournament game since 2010, which is as far back as available records go. The only other time in the last two years Villanova made 3 or fewer 3’s in any game was in a loss to Butler two weeks ago in the same gym. Villanova shot 5-for-44 at Hinkle this year. Baylor deserves a lot of the credit for Villanova’s shooting from deep. They didn't give 'Nova many clean looks.
4. Villanova’s Big 3 of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Jermaine Samuels and Justin Moore did what they could do, shooting a combined 15-for-27 for 39 points. Everybody else who played for the Wildcats shot 5-for-19 for 12 points. You’re not going to beat a powerhouse like Baylor with just three players contributing.
5. As bad as Villanova was protecting the ball, Baylor was terrific. They only committed six turnovers and Villanova had just one steal. It was the first game this year Villanova forced six or fewer turnovers.
6. Villanova actually played a strong game defensively against a bigger, faster, deeper team. Baylor is No. 4 in the country offensively at 84 points per game. The only other time they scored 62 or fewer points was in a 71-58 loss at Kansas last month. Baylor shot just 16 percent from 3 (3-for-19) and was just 44 percent from the field overall. Leading scorer Jared Butler was just 1-for-9 from 3 and managed 9 points, and second-leading scorer Macio Teague made just two baskets for 5 points. You couldn’t ask for a better defensive effort from the under-manned Wildcats.
7. As tough as the second half went for ‘Nova, they somehow were still within 5 points at 50-45 with the ball with just under 5 minutes left. But Moore missed a 3, Butler scored with the shot clock running down, Caleb Daniels missed a 3, and Baylor’s Davion Mitchell made a layup, and just like that it was a 9-point game with 3:20 left, and that was it.
8. A disappointing loss, especially considering Villanova led by seven at halftime and still by six with at 37-31 with 14 minutes left. But truly one of Jay Wright’s best coaching jobs. Considering Villanova had a 23-day layoff due to COVID, Wright himself contracted COVID, Gillespie’s injury and all the other challenges Villanova faced this year, when we look back on the 2020-2021 season, reaching the Sweet 16 was a heck of an accomplishment.
9. Villanova isn’t going away. It’s hard to know exactly what the roster will look like in 2021-2022. Gillespie’s future is uncertain as is Robinson-Earl’s. But Moore, Samuels and Caleb Daniels should be back, along with several other contributors from this team. And a healthy Bryan Antointe for a full season will be huge. We saw some encouraging glimpses in the Tourney wins over Winthrop and North Texas. Plus, Wright has another monster recruiting class coming in, led by Rutgers Prep’s Trey Patterson (who has already enrolled at ‘Nova). Villlanova has the 2nd-best record in Division 1 over the last eight years (253-44, .841) behind only Gonzaga (253-31, .891). They’re going to be really good as long as Wright hangs around.
10. Baylor, which hasn’t reached a Final 4 in 70 years, advanced to the Elite 8 and plays Monday night against the winner of the game between No. 3 seed Arkansas and No. 15 Oral Roberts.