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A great performance from sophomore guard Ash Yacoubou allowed Villanova to land on the winning end of an all-around ugly game to pick up a Big 5 win over Penn.
Villanova took down UPenn Saturday night in a 68-55 win over their Big 5 rival, in a contest that was described by one veteran Philadelphia sports writer as "VBH" — Very Bad Hoops. This game had the potential to put the Wildcats over .500 and preserve some dignity, and this game had the potential to force me to drink every Coors in my fridge. Luckily, we avoided losing to another Ivy and improved our record to 5-4 in good fashion.
"It really was not pretty - but pretty to us," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of the win.
Achraf Yacoubou was the star of the night, scoring 13 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in 25 minutes. He continues to show that he deserves to be on the floor with his smart, controlled play. While this team is very deep at the 2 and 3 positions, Yacoubou brings his unique defensive abilities to the table, as well as an efficient jump shot. He's one of the most athletic players on the team — his tip-slam in the first half was something I haven't seen out of any Wildcat in a while.
"Last year as a freshman he struggled a little bit and he has been getting better every day and you see it in practice and we used him a lot today," Wright told reporters afterward. "Nobody on our team is surprised, he is a player who just needs consistency. That is what our team is like."
Last season, Yacoubou had three starts in 26 games and averaged just a little over 10 minutes per contest. He never broke into double-digit points as a freshman.
"This really helps my confidence and shows if I keep listening to everything coach says and pay attention to details, I will be good," Yacoubou said.
Mouphtaou Yarou and JayVaughn Pinkston each added 10 points of their own, and Sutton was just behind them with 9 points. Scoring and floor time was fairly balanced tonight, with Ochefu, Sutton, and Mouph each playing 19 or 20 minutes. Jay seems happy to play two big men at once but has yet to adjust the offense to the bigger line-up. When our centers get the ball on the perimeter, it ends with a one dribble hand-off or a botched post entry. Sutton had 4 turnovers tonight, but mostly as a product of being given the ball where he shouldn't have it.
Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in 12 points, going 3-of-6 from 3-point land, but 4 fouls and 4 turnovers earned him a spot on the bench for the final minutes. It seemed like Jay might have wanted to use the teaching moment to tell the freshman to reel it in a little bit and play under control.
Villanova never seems to look to advance the ball or pass it up the wing. They take time to set up an offense or run a play on every possession, with the point guard slowly bringing the ball up the floor and into the set. In the first half, Hilliard had the ball at mid-court and could have pushed it, but instead passed it 25 feet backwards to Arch. With a team that struggles on offense, some easy fast break points might help them get into the flow of the game and tire out better teams.
Almost all of Jay Wright's best teams exploited mismatches on the fast break whenever possible.
I have to admit, I wanted to start writing this article early so I could start my Saturday night, but I hesitated to prematurely call this one a win because of the struggles we've had closing out games in the past two years. However, Villanova put UPenn away cleanly, shooting well down the stretch, especially from the line, and making smart plays. I loved the line-up at the end of the game, with: Ash, Bell, JVP, Mouph, and Ochefu. Wright has a tendency to play two point guards or two centers at a time, but as noted above, Nova has the most depth at shooting guard and small forward.
It's tough to compliment the team on these early season wins because they are playing mostly bad teams. Some improvement was notable last night, on some things like defensive rotations and taking the ball to the rim, but they continue to struggle with the same key issues that have cost them other games this season: post-entry troubles, lack of movement on offense, and generally inconsistent play. We need to see improvement in those areas before this team will turn the corner. I think they have the talent to turn things around, but the necessary changes and adjustments seem like they need to come from the man in the suit.
Villanova returns to the floor on Tuesday, December 11 against St. Joe's.