Wildcats Set New Low In 57-36 Baylor Loss

The Baylor defense hounded Villanova all game.

With 11:38 remaining in the second half, Villanova senior guard Collin Gillespie slammed the ball to the court. The Wildcats, down 13 to the reigning national champion Baylor Bears, had been able to get nothing going against a tenacious defensive effort, and Gillespie was frustrated enough for an uncharacteristic display of emotion.

From that point on, it only got worse for the ‘Cats. With a 10-3 run over the next five and a half minutes, the Bears systematically wore down Villanova, extending the lead to 20 points and holding the ‘Cats at that distance for the rest of the matchup. 

When the final whistle blew on a 57-36 loss, the Wildcats had made history, but not in the way they had wanted. In the first half, the Wildcats tied a Jay Wright-era record with just 15 points in the half, and after putting up just 21 in the second, including four free throws in the last minute from junior guard Justin Moore, the Wildcats had the eighth worst offensive performance in a game in history by a ranked team, tied for the lowest score ever from a team in the Top 10. The game was the first time the Wildcats had been held under 40 points since 1979, as well as the fewest points and lowest field goal percentage ever under Wright.

“I think Baylor’s an outstanding defensive team, as physically tough and quick as anyone we’ve played against,” Wright said. “Obviously we really struggled scoring, I give them the credit for that, they did a good job… They were just in us, physical, athletic, quick, and we really struggled with it.”

The only Wildcat to find any offensive success was Moore, who had 15 points on the day. The rest of the team struggled. As in both previous matchups with top teams, Wright utilized a six man rotation for the bulk of the game, but Gillespie scored just six in 37 minutes, graduate forward Jermaine Samuels scored two in 32, and senior forward Brandon Slater scored two in 30 minutes of action.

The Wildcats attempted 54 shots from the field, 27 from beyond the arc, and made shots at an identical 22.2% clip from both. Normally efficient, the Wildcats turned the ball over 13 times and had just five assists in the game, all by different players.

“We’re a pretty good shooting team,” Wright said. “I really chalk up our missed shots to their defense, I really do. We got off 27 threes, I’d say eight of them were open, maybe 19, 20 were contested, hard. As I said, I don’t think it’s just their on the ball [defense] but their ability to recover and cover ground is really exceptional.”

The Bears struggled offensively as well, scoring 25 points in the first half and shooting under 40% on the game from the field. Baylor entered the game averaging 84 points per game, but it struggled against the Villanova defense. Just two Bears entered double digits, senior guard James Akinjo, who led all scorers with 16, and junior guard Adam Flagler, who had 10.

“We didn't do a bad job defensively,” Wright said. “We just couldn’t score.”

The Bears dominated from the start. The game was tied for the first eleven seconds, but senior forward Matthew Mayer hit a three on the first attempt of the game to spark the Bears on a 8-1 run, and although Moore hit a three to bring the ‘Cats back within four, the Wildcats were never able to muster enough offense to threaten the Bears. 

The Wildcats were held scoreless for stretches of 7:30 and 5:05 in the first half, 4:04 and 5:32 in the second. Samuels scored his layup with less than two minutes remaining, catapulting the Wildcats over the thirty point threshold.

“They did a good job of stopping ball screens and recovering,” Gillespie said. “They make you guess a little bit when you’re open and when you’re not, so they did a good job of recovering on the guys who were trying to shoot.”

Going into the game, the headlines revolved around the Wildcats getting a shot at revenge against the team that knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament last year and beat them during the 2019-20 regular season. In the Sweet 16 last year, the Bears defeated the Wildcats 62-51, tightening up on defense late to come from behind and steal the victory. Baylor went on to win the National Championship, but with four of five starters leaving for Baylor and Gillespie and Samuels returning for the ‘Cats, the Wildcats were expected to be the better team this year.

However, Baylor dominated throughout, not skipping a beat despite their new faces.

“That team was great last year,” Wright said. “I think this team is really good and could be as good… they lost great guards, they replenished their guards, but those big guys … can guard anyone on the perimeter. Whatever position, they’re big, and they can guard Collin and Justin and they can rebound and guard anyone in the post. I think that’s the basis of their defense, and those guys are back, and they’re better than they were last year.”

#2 Baylor improved to 9-0 on the season, and with today’s statement win and top-ranked Purdue’s Thursday loss at Rutgers, the Bears will be number one in the next AP Poll. 

Meanwhile, #6 Villanova falls to 7-3 on the season, with all three losses coming against top-six opponents. However, this loss doesn’t have the same silver lining as the other two, as this game was never Villanova’s to win.

The Wildcats will look to rebound Friday night in their Big East opener as the team travels to Omaha to take on Creighton.