With 1:32 left in the second half, Villanova trailed Cincinnati 66-64 (after rallying back from an eight point halftime deficit), when Yancy Gates was fouled and went to the line to shoot two free throws. Gates missed both foul shots, but in a moment that was a microcosm for the entire Villanova season, the Wildcats were unable to come up with the rebound and lost the ball out of bounds, losing a chance to tie the game or take a lead. Instead, the Bearcats retained the ball and Dion Dixon drained a triple to make it 67-62. Even though Maalik Wayns drained a three pointer with 40:1 left on the clock, the Wildcats were not able to pull even with the Bearcats and missed an opportunity to gain momentum for the upcoming Big East tournament.
Villanova, coming off of a road win at Rutgers on Thursday night, fell behind Cincinnati 9-4 to start the nationally televised game at the Pavilion. The Wildcats rallied to tie the game at 11-11, but fell behind again when the Bearcats went on a 9-0 run to go up 20-11. Cincinnati was able to retain the lead throughout the first half by dominating the boards (17-12, including 8 offensive rebounds) and hitting on 51.6% of their field goal attempts. At the intermission, the Bearcats held a 40-32 lead. Gates had 10 points and Sean Kilpatrick chipped in 9. For Villanova, Wayns and Dominic Cheek each had 10 points.
Villanova came out for the second half with a greater sense of urgency and outscored Cincinnati 15-7 to notch a tie at 47-47. After the Bearcats briefly retook the lead 49-47, Wayns hit a triple to give the Wildcats a 50-49 lead. The teams then traded the lead four times before the Wildcats again tied it up at 58-58 on a basket by Markus Kennedy. Cincinnati then went back on top 64-58 by hitting two three-point shots. Once more, the Wildcats, who struggled all season long, tried to mount a comeback, and got the score to 64-62 on a Mouph Yarou basket. However, the Wildcats were unable to successfully get over the hump and lost another Big East battle.
With the loss, Villanova closed out the regular season with an overall record of 12-18, 5-13 in the Big East. Cincinnati ended its regular season with a mark of 22-9, 12-6 in the Big East. Villanova was led in scoring by Wayns with 26 points. Yarou added 16 and Cheek contributed 10, all in the first half. Maurice Sutton, who once again played with great energy, scored 9 points. Cincinnati had four players in double figures: Gates had 16, Dixon 14, Kilpatrick 13, and JaQuon Parker pitched in 11.
Villanova ended up winning the rebounding margin 31-30. Yarou had 7 boards, and Sutton & Kennedy had 5 each. Gates was the Bearcats’ leading rebounder with 9. Wayns handed out 5 assists, with only 2 turnovers for Nova and Cashmere Wright had 6 assists and zero turnovers for Cincinnati.
Next up for both teams is the Big East tournament, which starts on March 6th in Madison Square Garden. Cincinnati will enjoy a double bye before playing its first game at the Garden. Villanova will be playing on the first day when they square off with Rutgers at 930pm.
Sitting court side were former Villanova basketball star Malik Allen, former Villanova and Philadelphia Eagles football great Brian Westbrook, and Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.
You can view an expanded photo gallery from the game below: