BOSTON – West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was close to blowing a gasket.
With just under 13 ½ minutes remaining in Villanova’s 90-78 victory, the Mountaineers had already been whistled for seven team fouls – putting the Wildcats in the bonus – and one member of the starting backcourt, Daxter Miles, had four fouls and the other member, Jevon Carter, had three.
Despite having that advantage, however, the Wildcats were still settling for jump shots instead of looking for opportunities to create contact to draw more fouls and get more shots from the free-throw line, where Villanova shot 77.1 percent in the regular season to rank 18th in the nation.
There’s a reason they are called free throws.
With Nova trailing 60-54 and 11:08 left, coach Jay Wright called a timeout and presumably explained the situation to his players.
Coming out of the break, Jalen Brunson drove to the basket, got fouled and made a free throw. Brunson then completed a three-point play after being fouled while making a layup.
Eric Paschall made two free throws and the score was tied with Nova having gotten four of its six points from the foul line.
Suddenly, the Wildcats had gotten their mojo back.
Three of Villanova’s next four baskets were three-pointers and the other was a rim-rattling dunk by Omari Spellman.
The scoring spurt gave the Cats a nine-point lead margin and West Virginia never got closer than within seven points as Villanova closed out the East Region semifinal at the TD Center.
Villanova (33-4) will play the winner of Friday’s late game, Purdue vs. Texas Tech, on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four next weekend in San Antonio.
“I thought we were more aggressive in the second half,” Wright said. “We got to the foul line. We missed shots but we got to the foul line. I thought that was important for us early in the second half.”
Free throws might not be the sexiest way to get points in basketball, but they count all the same and can be the crucial ones for winning.
After shooting just nine free throws in the first half for eight points, Nova got 15 points from the charity stripe in the final 20.
It was almost an opposite situation for West Virginia (26-11).
In the first half the Mountaineers shot 12 free throws, and while the disparity from the line did not look that bad by the end of the game, 27-23 for Villanova, it doesn’t tell a complete story.
Nova was not called for its seventh team foul until 5:19 was left in the game. By then the Wildcats were leading 76-66 and West Virginia, even with its pressure defense, was not going to run down a team as talented as Villanova with that little time remaining.