VILLANOVA, Pa. — Let’s get this out of the way: Villanova ain’t some one-woman show.
Opening get-the-jitters-out minutes of Saturday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Cleveland State offered a little primer on how so many Wildcats contributed to a No. 4 region seed.
If you were inside the Finneran Pavilion early, you saw Villanova missing shots, Christina Dalce grabbing offensive rebounds. More shots, more misses, more Dalce rebounds, both ends. When ‘Nova heated up, it was Kaitlyn Orihel igniting off the bench with deep shots. As soon as Bella Runyan got in, she offered her particular blend of textbook and demonic defending. All important clues to how Villanova got to 28-6 this season.
But Maddy Siegrist, you may have heard, is the show.
The points pile up, her records pile on. Cleveland State had various defensive schemes in mind to stop Siegrist. In practice, all that amounted to a close-up view of the Maddy Siegrist Show, 35 points this time, Villanova moving on, winning 76-59.
Often, a Cleveland State zone offered Siegrist an opportunity to pick her own spots. You’d see Siegrist start down on the low block, get up the foul line area. Passes got to her too easily, nobody fronting her.
Playing behind her can make some sense in theory, since she’s 6-foot-2 and a lob means a layup. Cleveland State didn’t start anyone as tall.
In practice, forget it. Once Siegrist has the ball, your options deteriorate rapidly. Sometimes, you’ll get a quick shot out of her. (Swish.) Other times, she surveys her options, ball kept high, a defender surely viewing it unfold with a sense of dread. Her best option, often a midrange jumper. (Swish.)
While not officially a sellout, the Finneran Pavilion was packed to the last rows early Saturday evening. When starting lineups were announced, you only had to listen to know why the people were here.
How many games was Siegrist’s not Villanova’s leading scorer this season — go with zero. The scoring records start to sound almost mundane. The third quarter, she scored her 1,000th point. Career? No, this season. The fifth player in NCAA Division I history to pull that off.
The nation’s leading scorer with 28.9 points a game was higher than that midway through the third quarter, well past another milestone, tying Kelsey Plum’s NCAA record of 35 straight games scoring at least 20 points.
The Maddy Siegrist Show is not some exhibition. Maybe you see Siegrist’s fire most when she misses. Early second half, she had the ball and found a baseline path, the degree of difficulty for her shot not high, but it went in and out. Siegrist clapped her hands and yelled at herself.
By Friday, only single-seat tickets were left for sale. It’s a rare event, a Philly team playing a Division I NCAA game locally — the first time for Villanova’s women since 1988. Villanova’s men, while not officially the hosts, played first- and second-round NCAA games at what then was called the Wachovia Center.
Next up Monday, Florida Gulf Coast. As soon as the NCAA brackets were revealed last Sunday, Dillon offhandedly mentioned of the matchup between No. 5 Washington State and No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast, “Florida Gulf Coast could win that game.” Dillon is a voter in the coaches’ poll, and some of Florida Gulf Coast’s early-season “Also receiving votes” were Dillon votes as early as December.
Not like Florida Gulf Coast flying into Philly and making some NCAA waves is a new thing. It’s the 10th anniversary of the Dunk City show that took over the Wells Fargo Center in 2013, Georgetown and San Diego State saying goodbye.
This time, Pac-12 champion Washington State went down. The Cougars were an interesting group (beyond the horn players in the band in Gritty masks). … Is this the first team in NCAA history with starters from five continents. (Depends if you agree New Zealand is not part of the continent of Australia … the other three Washington State starters were from Cananda, Estonia, and Rwanda, with the top player off the bench from Kosovo.)
Final score: Atlantic Sun champs 74, Pac-12 champs 63.
When those brackets were revealed, maybe the Florida Gulf Coast coach had his own thought … If we’re lucky, if we get past Washington State, we’ll get to be part of the Maddy Siegrist Show, script to be written on Monday.