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Wright’s timeout issues hurt Nova’s repeat chances

By The Rex Factor

You will rarely hear me speak an ill word about Villanova head coach Jay Wright. The perfectly-dressed GQ model-of-a-man has patrolled the sidelines at the Philadelphia school for 16 years, which is amazing considering it seems like he just started building the program yesterday.

Wright was so good last year and an instrumental factor in the Wildcats running to their first national championship since 1985. Kris Jenkins buried a 24-footer at the horn to give Nova the three-point win over North Carolina in one of the most scintillating games ever played.

Wright’s expression after the ball went through the hoop was priceless and confirmed to me that he would be one hell of a poker player – it never changed. He wryly walked down to shake UNC coach Roy Williams’ hands as pandemonium broke all over the arena.

Many of the key components of that team were back in 2016-17 and the talk about the first repeat champions since Florida a decade ago ran wild in the buildup to the season, the Big East Conference season and the NCAA Tournament, when the Wildcats secured the No. 1 overall seed.

All of that talk can be put to bed after Wisconsin basically Wisconsin’ed their way (yes, that can officially be used as a verb in college hoops vernacular) to a 65-62 triumph over ‘Nova and advanced to the Sweet 16 on Friday at Madison Square Garden.

The eight-seed Badgers mucked up the game as only basically they can and found a way to steal it at the end. Villanova led 57-50 at one point late before Wisconsin closed the game with a 15-5 run. But it didn’t have to end that way.

Nigel Hayes made a spectacular move for UW to get to the rim and finish with 11.4 seconds left to give the Badgers a 64-62 lead. This is where things went awry for Wright and his Wildcats.

Instead of inbounding the ball and getting it past halfcourt against a retreating Badger defense, Villanova called an immediate timeout. It had two left at the time, but it allowed Wisconsin to reset its defense and put pressure on the Wildcats in the backcourt, making them work harder to get a good shot.

This was bad judgment by the coaching staff of Villanova, but what happened next was worse. Predictably, with 3.4 seconds left, the Villanova coaches had two sensible choices: call timeout before the first free throw to ice the shooter, or hope like hell that he misses the second one in order to call the last timeout and set up a long pass for a game-tying shot. Instead, the Wildcats called timeout after the first free throw was made.

That was absolutely the only thing you could not do. It was too late to ice the shooter, and it only allowed the 3.4 seconds to grab a rebound on a miss (a made free throw would have meant a four-point lead and game, set, match) and hit a desperation three. Wisely, the Wisconsin Badgers put pressure on the rebound; the double-team was smart because a foul would not have been too detrimental – it would have only resulted in two free throws in a three-point game. No foul was committed and Nova never had a realistic chance to tie the game.

Coaches across the spectrum that make gobs of money in college and professional sports are generally very good at certain things. John Calipari is an expert recruiter, for example. At some point almost every good coach was an assistant, and assistants need to know how to manage the clock. In Wright’s case, he and his assistants failed here. The first timeout allowed Wisconsin to make Villanova use precious seconds before missing the tying (contested) layup and the second one robbed the national champions of any realistic chance to tie the game.

Jay Wright is one of my favorite college basketball coaches, and that won’t change based on what happened Saturday in Buffalo. But he and his staff deserve a good portion of the blame for this loss for their actions inside the last 12 seconds.

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