Under the bright lights of Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion, Villanova propelled themselves past South Dakota St., 81-74, in an overtime thriller. With the win, the Wildcats earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32 for the first time since 2004.
The Wildcats wasted no time finding an early rhythm offensively, thanks in large part to their blistering start from behind the arc. Spearheading the attack was guard Adrianna Hahn, who scored nine of her team high 24 points with three quick threes in the game’s opening minutes. As a result of Hahn’s sharp shooting, Villanova closed the first quarter with a 26-11 lead.
The Jackrabbits began to claw their way back into the game in the second quarter, utilizing a 9-3 run to cut the Villanova lead to nine with 3:54 remaining in the half. However, the Wildcats closed the half strongly, taking a 38-27 lead into the locker room.
On their first possession out of the half, Villanova’s Kelly Jekot continued the team’s three-point barrage by knocking down another triple. The Jackrabbits answered with an 8-0 run to get within six midway through the third quarter.
Fortunately for Villanova, Mary Gedaka pulled the Wildcats out of their offensive lull with two inside baskets, both set up by great feeds from Alex Louin. By the end of the quarter, Villanova sported a 52-42 advantage.
While an entertaining game throughout, the fourth quarter transformed this matchup into an instant classic. Behind the late game performance of their star guard Macy Miller, the Jackrabbits found themselves down just one with 2:53 to play. On the ensuing possession, Hahn answered for the ‘Cats, nailing a clutch 3 to increase Villanova’s lead to four. Still up four with 41 seconds to go, Jekot bounded over two South Dakota State defenders to secure a pivotal offensive rebound, consequently drawing a foul and knocking down a pair of free throws to make it a six-point game.
Despite the deficit, the Jackrabbits refused to quit, and effectively extended the game through quick scores and fouls, eventually getting back within three with eight seconds to go. Down to their last chance, South Dakota State’s Madison Guebert threw up a prayer that miraculously banked in at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
While such a heart wrenching play would be enough to unravel many teams, Villanova entered overtime play unfazed. After getting a defensive stop, Louin, who finished the game just two assists shy of a triple double, found Gedaka inside again to put ‘Nova back in front. After a Miller layup, the game was again level. Then, Jannah Tucker happened. Villanova’s standout junior buried a pair of cold blooded threes on back to back possessions to give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.
With the win, Villanova will face off against #1 seeded Notre Dame this Sunday for a chance to advance the Sweet 16. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.