Villanova came out firing to start the came, running out to a 9-0 lead behind two nice drives from Ryan Arcidiacono and a corner three from Jayvaughn Pinkston. Pinkston would go on to hit two more from beyond the arc to give him a quick nine points in ten minutes.
Villanova was forced to navigate treacherous waters when Daniel Ochefu picked up his second foul of the game at the 9:00 minute mark. Xavier coach Chris Mack immediately brought in his 6'10" 260 pound center Matt Stainbrook to exploit the mismatch in size on the floor. For the most part, Villanova was able to contain the big man. Great team defense and hard nosed play from Pinkston, Bell, and Kris Jenkins in particular were able to minimize the damage Stainbrook inflicted.
Despite the hot shooting at the onset of the game, the first half became more of a slug fest between the new Big East rivals. Both teams shot under 40% from the floor in the first twenty minutes. Coach Wright credits his defense for keeping the Wildcats ahead, going on to say that "This was definitely one of our best defensive games of the year." At the end of the half, the Wildcats were ahead 28-22.
Sophomore Semaj Christon worked hard to impress the seven NBA scouts in attendance at tonight's game. Displaying a lightning quick first step, the star guard kept his team around with 10 points in the opening half. The Wildcats did a great job keeping him in check. Arcidiacono, a constant subject of criticism for his perimeter defense was able to keep Christon in front of him. Coach Wright also threw a slew of help defenders and consistently switched on screens.
The second half, as is quickly becoming a trend this season, belonged to the Wildcats. Darrun Hilliard, notching only two points in the first twenty minutes, sparked Villanova's efforts out of the locker room. The junior guard scored six of his team's first 8 points to start the second half. He continued his great play as a distributor, driving the ball and kicking to a wide open James Bell on multiple occasions. It was a sight Coach Wright has been waiting for the past couple of years to see. "It's really nice to have juniors and seniors that can do things like this for your team. We're really lucky to have them."
James Bell turned in one of the best performances of his career as a Wildcat tonight, displaying great skills in every facet of the game. On offense, he moved beautifully without the ball, constantly finding himself in the right place to nail the open three or dunk it down for two points. On defense, Bell guarded everyone from 6'0" Dee Davis to the Musketeers biggest option, Stainbrook.
But Bell's intangibles might be even more impressive. After sinking a floating layup, Semaj Christon tried to start something with Daniel Ochefu by pushing him in the back and turned around to bark some more trash talk Ochefu during transition. While Coach Wright screamed at the refs to call a technical, Bell did what he's been taught to do--he took Ochefu aside to calm him down and came out of the timeout and drilled a three pointer. His impact didn't go unnoticed by his coach. After the game, Coach Wright noted "I think a smart person sees that Bell is worth more than his 27 points and 8 rebounds. James has been here for four years and seen it all."
The Wildcats broke open the game around the 12 minute mark, as a beautifully drawn up out of bounds play led to a two handed James Tahj Bell throw down. The crowd cheered. After a Daniel Ochefu block and subsequent Dylan Ennis transition slam, the crowd exploded. Extending their lead to 15, Villanova never looked back.
Villanova assisted 25 times on their 32 made field goals. Even better, they only recorded 7 turnovers.
The Villanova bench made their presence felt after a lengthy hiatus that saw them go cold for a majority of the season (just kidding, don’t kill me Corollary). Dylan Ennis contributed a solid 9 points and 4 assists to help his team. Perhaps most heartening was Ennis' decision to drive the ball more often tonight. His aggressive play opened up multiple easy baskets for his teammates. Josh Hart, as we've become accustomed to seeing, threw his body all over the court and was a key instrument in Villanova's team rebounding concept. And Jenkins, despite missing badly on some attempts from distance, battled down low like a warrior on defense. It was an all-around great team effort.
After some close wins on the road, the Wildcats refreshed their fans with a simply dominate performance. The win brings Villanova's win total to 20 for the season. But Coach Wright isn't too figured up about the temporary milestone.
"Everybody is getting better in this league. Look at Georgetown against Michigan State. Look at Providence. If you look at 20 wins, you're going to get passed up."
Well, in a game that saw nine different Wildcats notch at least 10 minutes, it seems like there will be no slowing down for this team. Each game we see a Wildcat display a new skill. Tonight, we saw JayVaughn go perfect on his three attempts from distance. Ochefu filled up the stat sheet with a 7 point, 6 rebound, 4 assist, and 2 block performance. The team as a whole moved the ball on offense better than they might have all season.
For now, it looks like Coach Wright doesn't have to worried about being passed up anytime soon.
Oh, and for the record, Jay Wright doesn't like the grey uniforms. But, he noted that "Thank god it doesn't say Georgetown on the front."
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