It didn't appear as though South Florida could play any worse after halftime. Trailing 39-16, they were shooting 23% overall, 13% from behind the arc, and had more fouls than rebounds. They then proceeded to come out and miss eight of their first 10 shots of the second half, and Villanova ran away from the Bulls 68-40 on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats improved to 15-9 overall, and 6-5 in the Big East.
South Florida scored the first bucket of the game on an Anthony Collins jumper, but the Wildcats went on a 12-0 run to erase the early deficit. It would be the only time 'Nova trailed all game.
A key factor in the early success for Villanova was their aggressive full-court pressure defense. They went to it on four separate occasions, and it stifled Collins and the USF offense, who turned it over twice and missed two shots.
The 'Cats would not let up on defense throughout, holding the Bulls to just 11 field goals in the entire game. Darrun Hilliard had 6 on his own in just 26 minutes. South Florida found it very difficult to create open looks, as evidenced by their three total assists. Point guard Anthony Collins entered the game 12th in the country with 6.7 assists per game, but managed only one on Saturday.
"You know, Anthony Collins is a hell of a point guard. Ryan guarded him the entire game. This kid runs everything they do on offense, and Ryan did an outstanding job on him," Jay Wright said, "He's got such a high basketball IQ."
Arcidiacono only tallied three points in the game, only shooting once in the first half. But he played solid defensively and managed a 4:0 assist to turnover ratio. he took care of the ball, and his teammates took care of the rest.
As a team, Villanova shot a blistering 65% from the field in the first half and 52% overall, continuing their sharpshooting that started in the second half of Tuesday's win over DePaul. They also shot an astounding 53% from behind the arc, led by Darrun Hilliard's 17 points and 6-8 shooting.
The Wildcats went over 10 minutes without missing a field goal in the first half, and were shooting an incredible 75% from the field at the under-8 media timeout. Meanwhile, South Florida had spurts of pure ineptitude on the other end. The Bulls' last made basket in the first half came from Jawanza Poland with 9:11 to go.
"We've been pretty consistent defensively, but when we had a lead in the second half, it didn't take away from our commitment on defense. We didn't relax like we did against DePaul," Wright said.
The only real scare for 'Nova, if you could call it that, was a quick 5-0 run by USF in the first half to cut the lead to 16-11. Wright and the 'Cats went on a 23-5 run to end the half, with Mouph Yarou tipping in a rebound as the buzzer sounded.
An 11-4 stretch to open the second half led to a 50-20 score, and they would flirt with that 30-point lead for the rest of the game. Wright brought in Mislav Brzoja, Henry Lowe, Patrick Farrell, and Nick McMahon to close out the contest, and a Farrell free throw managed to produce the first points from a Wildcat walk-on player this season. Brzoja added three rebounds, each to a booming cheer from the Pavilion's student section.
Added Wright: "We're still learning. This is an inexperienced team that's very coachable. Even having a lead like this at halftime, and coming out and taking care of business is a big step for us."
This was the fewest points Villanova has ever allowed in a Big East game, and it is also the best defensive effort the 'Cats have put forth this season. Their previous low for points allowed was 52, in a win against Vanderbilt in early December.
Yarou fell just short of a double-double, totaling nine points and 10 rebounds. JayVaughn Pinkston added 10 points and five rebounds, and Achraf Yacoubou managed to amass eight points in just 16 minutes of play. 10 different players contributed points for Villanova, who managed 11 assists to just 13 turnovers, a step in the right direction for a young and inexperienced team.
The Bulls may have been an easy test for the Wildcats, but it's still nice to see a solid double-digit win in the Big East, and not a let-down loss like last Sunday against Providence. A key stretch for Villanova starts this week however, as Wright takes his team on the road to both Cincinnati and UConn.
"How you play on the road in this league shows what you're all about," Wright said. "We have to go into Cincinnati, and just do it. We weren't bad against Notre Dame, but we weren't good either. What we do on the road in this league will show how good a team we are. We're feeling good and we like playing on the road."