Normally games against a Division 2 opponent are saved for exhibition games, but the Wildcats opened their season with a contest that was more a tale of two halves than a sure-fire blowout. It took Villanova 21 minutes to really get the offense firing on all cylinders, a showing that might not be so forgiving when facing Big East opponents or better.
Ryan Arcidiacano was very impressive in his 2nd legitimate game of his Villanova career, scoring 11 points and dishing 4 assists. UDC kept themselves in the game, partly to do with Villanova’s poor shooting and free throw percentage. Yet Jay Wright gave the Firebirds a lot of credit.
"They are a very scrappy team. They’re a good team, but our defense wore them down in the 2nd half," Wright said.
In the first half, the ‘Cats jumped out to an early 13 point lead, but the Firebirds clawed their way back and were within striking distance for the entire half. The Wildcats shot a measly 39.3 percent from the floor, connecting on just 11 of their 28 shots, but went 4 for 11 from 3 to supplement those meek shooting numbers. At the free throw line they were just 7 for 15, a 46.7% clip. All of that changed in the 2nd half, however. In the opening minute of the 2nd half, UDC came within 2 points of tying the game, but a score from Darrun Hilliard and an and-1 from James Bell seemed to spark the Wildcat offense. In a ten minute stretch in the 2nd half, the Wildcats outscored the Firebirds 31-7.
On paper, this game should have been a blowout from the start. With no players over 6’8", the Firebirds were completely overmatched on the boards, being outrebounded 41-29. Jay Wright believes that this early season schedule is an important time for lessons on the hardwood, no matter the quality of opponent, especially with such a young team.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Jay Wright said in the post-game press conference. "Every experience with this team will be god for us."
Wright was overflowing with praise for young Ryan Arcidiacono, who has seemed to put his dreadful exhibition game performance behind him.
"Ryan’s been great all preseason, all summer long, and in every practice. He’s a leader, he’s got a real good floor game, and we’re going to see a lot more from him."
Arcidiacano, nicknamed "Arch" for brevity, seemed to be overjoyed and brimming with pride as he sat next to his head coach.
"I’ve felt like I’ve been at Villanova my whole life. It’s surreal playing for Villanova. It’s been my dream my whole life," Arch said.
"A couple of my shots fell down early. There’s definitely a lot of improvement from my last game. I still had 3 turnovers, which I need to cut down on."
When asked about what happened early in the 1st half, Ryan Arch made it clear the team backed off intensity.
"We got complacent, we have to work on grinding, keep going at ‘em. The start of the 2nd half really helped us."
The Carleton game was brought up again. Arch responded that he was "trying to do too much, wasn’t playing my game."
Maurice Sutton parroted Arcidiacono’s sentiment, agreeing that "the 2nd half was a grind."
When asked what the strengths of the team were, and how the team will be successful, Mo Sutton responded:
"Just keep the pedal on. Our size will continue to help us out throughout the season."
Jayvaughn Pinkston also had a nice game, even though he was virtually invisible in the 1st half. He finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds.
For the UDC, three of their players scored 12 or more points.
The next game for Villanova will be Sunday afternoon at 1pm against Marshall.