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Villanova women win inaugural WBIT game against VCU

03/21/2024, 11:45pm EDT
By Finn Courtney

By Finn Courtney (@finncourtney_)

VILLANOVA - Given one of four inaugural No. 1 seeds in the first-ever Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament (WBIT), Villanova got its final segment of the season off to a good start with a dominant 75-60 victory over VCU.

The 32-team WBIT is the newest postseason innovation by the NCAA, serving as a parallel to the men’s NIT tournament (which the Villanova men’s program lost in yesterday), with both Villanova and Saint Joseph’s — which defeated Seton Hall earlier today to advance — received invitations.

It also serves as a second-chance for teams that missed out on March Madness to play in a major tournament sponsored by the NCAA, unlike the WNIT, which requires teams to pay to enter. And for head coach Denise Dillon, she’s excited about the opportunity to keep playing, with a matchup against Virginia awaiting in the second round on Sunday.

(L to R) Maddie Burke, Lucy Olsen and Denise Dilllon sit at the post-game podium. (Photo: Finn Courtney/CoBL)

“We’re fired up to continue to be playing, I was really pleased with the effort,” Dillon said. “For this being the first year, the WBIT, we’re happy to be representing, great to have the game here at home and even more special when you get that win. [...] It’s a credit to our group, putting everything they have out on the floor and the Villanova community, family, they’re there for us.”

This tournament also marked a second chance for star guard Lucy Olsen and her teammates after a disappointing Big East Tournament quarterfinal loss to Marquette. An opportunity, if tonight was any indication, they had no intentions of letting slip through their fingers against the Rams (26-6).

“Every team in this tournament is tough, everyone’s the top dog coming out of their conference,” Olsen said, “everyone’s angry that they didn’t get into March Madness [and] everyone wants revenge.”

With 12 days off since that early exit from the Big East Tournament, Dillon recognized disappointment at the first practice post-tournament, but disappointment that turned quickly to hard work. 

“I’ll tell you, after that first practice, they came ready,” Dillon said, “we had a plan of competitive drills, competitive games in practice and they embraced it. They rose up to the occasion and you just saw them working [tonight], playing the game they love and so it gave us a chance to change some things, regroup [and] obviously when you’re putting that in and preparing you get some results.”

Helping the Wildcats (19-12) move on, it was Olsen who shined brightest, battling past two early fouls to finish with 29 points (12-21 FG, 2-7 3PA). That scoring performance also moved her to 11th place all time on the Villanova record books with a career total of 1,415 points.

Beyond Olsen, sharpshooting guard Maddie Burke scored eight points against the Rams, including two three-pointers, setting a career high with six rebounds. Additionally, junior Zanai Jones finished with 11 points, despite an ineffective night (3-10 FG, 3-7 3PA).

Overall, Villanova enjoyed a bounce-back day offensively, shooting 29-for-56 (51.8%) from the field and 10-for-27 (37%). That included an outstanding third quarter, where the Wildcats dropped 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting and knocking down three threes in seven attempts.

With early foul trouble to Olsen, Christina Dalce and Big East All-Freshman team selection Maddie Webber, Dillon was forced to play role players in extended minutes. The most notable was freshman forward Brynn McCurry who stepped up and played a career-high 15 minutes. 

For McCurry, who struggled for minutes throughout the season, tonight marked a productive step forward. She helped create clean ball movement offensively, spread the floor well to create three-point opportunities for teammates and finished with a +7 in the +/-, two points (2-2 FT) and five assists.

“She’s a selfless player, she really knows the game,” Dillon said, “and as she just continues to gain confidence and experience, good things happen and getting her out there for some significant minutes helped us immensely.”

In the second round, Villanova will have to deal with Virginia star freshman Kymora Johnson (15.4 points per game) and the Cavaliers this Sunday.

Villanova needs to be wary of the Cavaliers on the boards, as they excel with pulling down rebounds, averaging 41.5 per game - about six more than Villanova’s 35.4 per game average. The Wildcats will need more than 19 minutes of foul-limited action from Dalce this Sunday, if they are to advance. Without her on the floor, they could be left vulnerable to being beaten on the glass.

For Dillon, it also marks a matchup against a former co-member of the USA basketball staff in second-year head coach Amaka “Mox” Agugua-Hamilton

“I followed Virginia this year, ” Dillon said, “and I’ve known [Agugua-Hamilton] since her Hofstra days. So, of course, you follow some of your close ones and I’m really pleased and proud of her, the work she’s done there at Virginia. So yeah, we know it will be a tough game, they’re playing some good basketball, they’re feeling good tonight.”

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