The No. 3-seeded Villanova Wildcats defeated the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils 77-54 Thursday night in the East Regional semifinal in Boston in front of what seemed a Villanova friendly crowd.
Junior guard Scottie Reynolds led all players in scoring with 16 points, and the Wildcats’ defense stepped up to hold the Blue Devils to 26.7 percent from the field and 18.5 percent from beyond the 3-point line. The 23-point drubbing was Duke’s worst tournament loss since their 30-point defeat to UNLV in 1990.
Similar to the opening of their game against UCLA, the Wildcats came out physical, blocking Duke’s first three-point attempt. After quickly going down five, Villanova stormed back to score 11 unanswered points. The Wildcats never relinquished the lead after Reynolds put the team up two with a three-pointer and 17:21 remaining in the first half.
Despite poor shooting from deep, Villanova went into the locker room up three, the score sitting at 26-23. Duke’s 3-point shooting, usually the team’s strong point, was held in check as the Blue Devils shot only 2-11 from deep in the first half. The only reason the game was close was due to Duke matching Villanova’s physicality and defensive pressure.
Duke forward Kyle Singler opened the second half with an easy layup, pulling the Blue Devils to within one, 26-25. But the Wildcats came back with a vengeance, exploding on a 16-4 run and bringing the score to 42-29.
Villanova continued to play physical while Duke continued to search for answers. The struggles from three-point land that crippled the Blue Devils in the first half carried over in the second. Duke shot only 9-35 from the field and 3-16 from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Corey Stokes hit a three-point jumper with just over two minutes remaining to secure Villanova’s spot in the Elite 8.
Those left in the TD Banknorth Garden started chants of “We want Pitt! We want Pitt!”
Many expected a dogfight between these two very similar squads, but Villanova was simply too deep and too balanced for the Blue Devils. The Wildcats managed to contain Duke’s most explosive players, forwards Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson. The two combined for a miserable 4-32 from the field.
In addition to Reynolds, senior forward Dante Cunningham and junior guard Reggie Redding managed double figures in points. Redding finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, while Cunningham notched yet another double-double, scoring 14 points and bringing in 11 boards.
Besides propelling Villanova into the next round to take on Big East rival Pittsburgh for a trip to the Final Four, the victory broke Villanova’s school record for wins in a single season. The Duke win was Villanova’s 29th of the year and marked the Wildcat’s first victory over Duke since December 20, 1958. The Blue Devils had won the previous five meetings.
Villanova will try to advance to its first Final Four since winning the National Championship in 1985 against Pittsburgh on Saturday at 7 p.m.
I’m off to Boston, but here are the articles dealing with the game form this week’s issue: