Denver drops nail-biter to Villanova in first-ever BIG EAST regular season loss

Photo courtesy Denver Athletics

DENVER – For the first time since joining the BIG EAST six years ago, the #10 Denver Pioneers have lost a regular season, conference game. It took a career day from the Villanova Wildcats’ freshman goalie Will Vitton who stopped 19 of Denver’s 30 shots on goal and a sloppy game from the Pioneers to break DU’s 27-game regular season BIG EAST winning streak. Villanova also snapped a 10-game losing streak against the Pios dating back to 2001.

It was an ugly game for the Pioneers nearly from start to finish. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead just 38 seconds into the game, Villanova reeled off four straight to take control of the game. Denver would fail to even come back to tie the game again. The Wildcats forced the Pioneers to chase the game from behind all afternoon and DU could not solve Vitton. The Pioneers did pull within one goal six different times (4-3, 5-4, 7-6, 8-7, 11-10, and 12-11), but each time, Villanova answered with a goal of their own to keep the Pioneers at bay.

Denver gave themselves a chance to finish the comeback late in the game nearly erasing a four-goal deficit in the final five minutes of the game. They had the final possession but, as was the case all day, they could not solve Vitton when it mattered most as Ellis Geis’ final shot rattled off of Vitton’s helmet with 10 seconds to go.

This loss to Villanova was somewhat a microcosm of what Denver’s season has been to this point. They’ve shown flashes of brilliance at times and at others, they leave you scratching your head. Today was the latter. Take, for example, DU could not find a way to beat Vitton today. Rather than use the talented offensive creativity that this deep offense boasts to force the Wildcat goalie into different looks, the Pioneers kept forcing shots without even so much as changing his eye-level. Today’s performance left the Pioneers searching for some answers.

It’s not like the Pioneers are strangers to close games. Coming into today, Denver had played in three one-goal games. But in those games, they are just 1-2, now 1-3. In the times that Denver needs to play at their best and be that top team in the country that they’re capable of being, it’s as if the moment gets to them and they can’t pull away or string together a big enough run to come back. It happened against Duke, it happened against Princeton, and now it has happened against Villanova.

Denver still has plenty of time to right the ship with a trip to St. John’s next weekend as the stretch run starts. There are still three BIG EAST games left before the conference tournament comes to Denver in early May. There is time but Denver cannot afford to waste any more of it. Another loss and Denver’s NCAA hopes hinge solely on winning the BIG EAST Tournament.

Bill Tierney Postgame