BUFFALO - Twenty-eight minutes is a long time to go without a lot of things in a basketball game -- and when you're the team that attempts the seventh-highest rate of three-pointers in the country, it's an especially long time to go without making a trey. Villanova got in just under that mark against Milwaukee on Thursday, when Kris Jenkins connected from the wing with 12:01 left to play -- on the team's 17th attempt from deep -- and the Wildcats were fortunate that by then, they were already holding a six-point lead. The final score was 73-53, but as far as 20-point wins go, this had to be cause for concern.
We knew that Villanova's dependence on threes made it vulnerable in the tournament, but tonight nearly took that to an extreme. Though a compelling story (Milwaukee won just eight games last year and was picked by Horizon League coaches to finish last again this year,) the Panthers were not an especially strong 15-seed, though one of their notable assets was a top-50 three-point defense. Thus without even putting together anything resembling a quality offensive performance of their own -- Milwaukee shot just 28.6% from the floor for the game, and nearly identically in each half -- the underdogs were able to hang around longer and longer with every Villanova miss, holding a three-point lead three minutes before halftime and trailing by just four at the break. Until Milwaukee appeared to lose gas in the final few minutes, the Wildcats' pulling away was less dominant than workmanlike, a grind to attain adequacy on a night when their normal well of offense went dry.
To an optimist, this may be encouraging: to pull out such a win is much better than to let one slip away. But there will be no 15 seeds going forward. On Saturday, Villanova will UConn, a top-25 team with quality shooters and an All-America point guard capable of grabbing hold of a game and bending it to his liking. Take too long to get going against the Huskies, and it might already be over.
[si_video id="video_531C9D4D-12C1-5E79-9AF1-B2B8E4692813" height="500"]