Villanova Is Going to the WBIT Final Four

The Wildcats Earn a Trip to the Semifinal Round With a 67 – 59 Win Over the Saint Joseph’s Hawks

VILLANOVA, PA. 3/28/2024 –

A treat for local basketball fans. Two Big Five rivals playing for a berth in the WBIT Final Four. It will be the Villanova Wildcats who will be going to Indianapolis to play for a championship. A great source of pride for this team that is excited to keep playing.

“We were upset that we missed March Madness by just a little bit,” said Villanova senior guard Bella Runyan. “We took the opportunity to keep playing. We’ve been taking it one game at a time. We take it day by day, practice by practice, and what game is next. Just survive and advance and cherish every last moment. We have two games left and that’s the season.”

The Way Villanova Won

A rivalry game. For Villanova a revenge game as they lost to Saint Joseph’s 73 – 67 in December. Nova led from start to finish, and did so with leading scorer Lucy Olsen being held in check due to foul trouble and having a tough shooting night. She finished with 16 points, but had a hard time getting there having no first half points, and 7 after three quarters. The Wildcats would need their defense and other players to contribute on offense. They got just that.

The Hawks would make 34.4% of their shots (21 of 61) and only 3 of 16 from three-point land.

Meanwhile the Wildcats got offense from Bella Runyan who scored a team and career-high tying 16 points making 6 of 8 from the floor and a perfect 4 for 4 from distance. Runyan set a career-high in made three-point field goals in the final Finneran Pavilion game of the season. Forward Christina Dalce contributed a double-double getting 10 points and rebounds to go along with 3 blocked shots. Brynn McCurry tied her collegiate-best in assists handing out 6. Zanai Jones added 10 points.

“The defense is our staple,” said Villanova Coach Denise Dillon. “We’re not playing defense, we’re not in the conversation with the game. It’s giving ourselves a chance to be successful. You talk so much about playing continuity basketball. We’ve been playing it. I think we are playing our best team basketball of late. Lucy carried a lot throughout some of those games when other players were struggling to shoot. I think she sensed it how comfortable we are finding each other. You all have to be a threat out there, an option.”

Key Run of the Game

Saint Joseph’s would pull to within 54 – 51 with 6:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. On the next possession Olsen was looking for a call from the official. She did not get it. Olsen responded scoring the next 7 consecutive points of the game to put Nova up double digits with 4:54 on the clock.

“Seeing the ball go through the basket is always a relief,” Olsen said. “But, yeah, that was fun.”

Numbers for Saint Joseph’s

Talya Brugler scored game-high 20 points. Mackenzie Smith added 13 points. The third member of the team Big Three, Laura Ziegler, was held to 5 points, but did pull down a team-best 9 rebounds. Gabby Casey added 11 points.

St. Joe’s never took the lead, but remained in the hunt. Maybe a late made three would have been the lift they need. That critical shot did not fall.

“We just didn’t make enough shots,” said Saint Joseph’s Coach Cindy Griffin. “Ziegler went one for fourteen, she hadn’t done that all year. She is our second leading scorer and that was something we didn’t think was going to happen. We needed everybody contributing.”

The Meaning of the Game

Not just for who advanced and who’s season ended. It was exciting to see two local rivals playing another game. The latest point in the season they ever met. Both programs who have great mutual respect for one another. So much was on the line. A thrilling win for Villanova, who will play Penn State. A sad loss for Saint Joseph’s. More to play for for the Wildcats. Fuel added to the fire for next year for the Hawks. It is not often Philly teams will meet in a post season tournament setting. It was a night to remember, for both programs, and the 2,415 in attendance.

“Typical Big Five battle,” Griffin said. “I think, unfortunately, you put two really good teams against each other, one of us has to lose. One of us wins. We wanted more, we wanted to be a part of the Final Four and get the chance to compete for a national championship.”


Written By: Glenn Papazian


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