Though many of the mistakes that have plagued 'Nova's season thus far remained at the forefront of the stat sheet on Tuesday night, there was something different in the air in downtown Philadelphia as the Villanova Wildcats defeated the #5 Louisville Cardinals 73-64 - the program's 4th win over a top 5 team in the last 5 seasons.
As Ryan pointed out in his postgame recap, this win wasn't about just one player. Looking at the box score shows you 5 players in double-digits, everyone with at least 2 rebounds, and 4 players with multiple steals. If you watched the game, the eyeball test brought even more credence to the numbers.
Tony Chennault played his best game in a 'Nova uniform at just the right time, providing the necessary balance in the backcourt that eased the pressure on Arcidiacono. Ash and Tahj both played the glue-guy role to perfection, filling up the stat sheet and coming up with huge shots when the game was on the line.
And despite too many fouls, and still too many turnovers, Villanova grew up in a big way. They're finding their identity game by game, and that identity is starting to read defense, defense, and more defense. Peyton Siva put in a predictably good shift with 15 points and 11 assists, but his 5-13 effort from the field suggests he was under far more pressure than he was comfortable with - a credit to both the guards chasing him and the big men who effectively ended Louisville's high-screen game with their hedging.
Most important of all, however, was the demeanor of the players, and the energy that began to surface in the building, starting with Yacoubou's dagger 3-pointer with just under 4 minutes left that gave Villanova a lead it would not relinquish after Louisville held an arm's length lead for much of the second half. The passion and fire was evident on the court as the team started to realize they could, and were going to, win this game.
As Villanova inched closer to victory, the reaction of bench players such as Daniel Ochefu (who had fouled out after a strong game), Dylan Ennis and Maurice Sutton was pure joy. As Jay Wright began to sub stalwarts Mouphtaou Yarou, James Bell, Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Arcidiacono out of the game, you got another emotion - relief. The smiles on their faces gave insight into just how hard they've been working for this type of win this season.
With Syracuse coming to town on Saturday, there's not that long to celebrate this win, but this is the type of victory which can get a team over the hump and on to better things - and who else would you want coming to town than the Orange, who we came oh so close to knocking off just a couple of games ago?
There's still a lot to fix, and a lot of learn for this team, but last night was as good as it gets, and there's clearly light on the horizon for this year's Wildcats.
Video Highlights [ESPN]