Villanova cruises to victory against Southern Cal Trojans

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats got out early in what turned into an easy 94-79 victory over USC in their opening game at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Villanova will next face the winner of Kansas and Wake Forest.

The USC Trojans couldn't keep up with Villanova's guards early on, allowing the 'Cats, who shot 37.9% from beyond the arc, to get out to a quick lead. The strange environs of playing in a hotel ballroom did not stifle the deep Villanova backcourt; they took a double-digit lead into the halftime break and added a bit to that lead over the course of the second half.

Five Wildcats scored in double-digits, including Dylan Ennis, who returned from a broken hand to score 14 points, one assist and one steal in his Villanova debut. The Canadian sophomore was 4-5 from the field. It was his first NCAA basketball game since suiting up for Rice on March 20, 2012.

Whether Ennis would play today was left as an unanswered question until late on Wednesday, when Jay Wright finally spilled the beans that the transfer would play. Returning to contribute so impactfully on the scoresheet immediately bodes well for Ennis' contributions to the program this season. With him in the rotation, Wright can play a much more uptempo attack this season, without worrying about tiring out his starters.

Villanova exhibited a lot of energetic plays that impressed the crowd, including thundering dunks from Ochefu and some leaping heroics from James Bell. The senior from Florida has come into his own this season — some may say finally — now averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists per game —— an almost-10-point-per-game improvement over his junior effort.

James Bell led the way for the Wildcats, putting up 17 points, while Darrun Hilliard scored 16, Ryan Arcidiacono scored 14 and JayVaughn Pinkston had 12.

It was a team effort for the 'Cats offense, however, recording 17 assists on 31 made-baskets. They attempted 29 3-pointers (making 11, for 37.9%) and had 30 free throw chances.

The Trojans beat Villanova on the boards 44-40 and had 10 more chances from the charity stripe, but they also turned the ball over 17 times to the 'Cats 13. The 'Cats opponents were just a bit too sloppy to take over the game.

Daniel Ochefu, who fouled out with just under six minutes left, grabbed seven boards to lead the team. He also did a good job defending USC's gigantic center Omar Oraby, who scored just six points and grabbed only 5 boards (tied for third on the team).

Villanova struggled to control USC guard Pe'shon Howard, giving up 23 points to the 6-3 senior guard who averaged just 7 points per game this season after transferring from Maryland. Howard shot seven of the Trojans's eleven 3-point attempts, and had all four of their makes.

In all, the Trojans had four players in double-digits, with back-up center D.J. Haley scoring 10, bench-forward Roschon Prince with 13 and starting guard Byron Wesley recording 15 points as well.

Villanova's 94 points set the record for single-game scoring at the Atlantis tournament. They officially broke the record when a late 3-point make by freshman Kris Jenkins brought the 'Cats total to 90 points. The previous record of 89 points belonged to UMass.

The Wildcats will continue their Battle 4 Atlantis tour on Friday night at 930p ET when they play the Kansas/Wake Forest winner. That game will air on NBC Sports.

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