Things started slow for the Wildcats, who shot just 20% from beyond the arc in the first half, but their opponent DePaul wasn't able to do much better. The Blue Demons connected on just 16.7% from deep and were pretty cold all around. The Wildcats built a 9-point lead at halftime, and when DePaul came out hotter in the second half, Villanova turned on the microwave as well -- shooting 10-of-14 (71%) from the floor early in the half, and about 50% from deep.
Villanova walked off the court with the win, beating DePaul 88 to 62. It was the Wildcats' twelfth straight win at the Pavilion and the ninth in a row this season. Each of the last five has been by 20 points or more.
" I think think we played well, not pretty, but well," Villanova head coach Jay Wright explained. "I thought we played well defensively, that we rebounded the ball well against this team is important."
While the Wildcats usual leaders looked off, Daniel Ochefu was putting together a career-performance; 14 points on a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks and 4 assists with no turnovers. The sophomore big man was a spark-plug for the team early on, when few other players looked strong offensively, Ochefu scored 9 of his points in the first half.
"He works hard. He works hard on his offensive skills, he takes pride in his passing, his defense and it takes times for a Forward to develop offensively, but he's been carrying us defensively and on the glass," Wright glowed about his center.
"I thought the blocked shot he had trailing was kind of, that was the dagger. A lot of guys talk about 3s that are the dagger, but I thought that was the dagger, they don't make a little run."
Wright wasn't the only one to note Ochefu's performance; DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell was not impressed with how his team handled the emerging big.
"We didn't do a good job on him. We gave him some angles for dunks and you just can't do that, you have to make him try to score over the top. We finally did have to double him in the second half."
Having Ochefu playing well on offense — this was his second-straight game in double-digits — makes thing a lot easier for Villanova. In the past, when the 'Cats needed an offensive burst, Jay Wright felt that he had to move Pinkston to the 5 and hope his defense didn't suffer. On a day like today, Wright has the confidence to keep his biggest player on the court.
"Being able to go to him when JayVaughn [Pinkston] is out is big too," he added. "It really helps us defensively, because we're able to play him and JayVaughn together a lot, because they're both scoring now.
"If we have both of them in, we're better defensively. Sometimes we only have one of them in because we need help offensively. But now, playing those two together, we're great defensively and just as good offensively."
The team had 21 assists on 31 field goals in the game, a trend toward a high assist-rate that has benefitted Villanova all season. Coming into the game, the Wildcats were 15th in the country in assist rate, according to KenPom.com, and they assisted almost 68% of their field goals tonight.
"It's a combination of young guys getting a year older, just knowing what you're doing," the head coach explained. "Assists really come from a smart team that knows where the next pass is before they make it.
"So it's that and being able to get Daniel [Ochefu] on the floor more - he's a great passer, that wasn't from me, that was his high school coach. He came here that way. Having him on the floor more and JayVaughn's development that — he had two assists and no turnovers tonight."
(Editor's Note: Ochefu is no stranger to passing or handling the rock, he noted post-game that his high school coach let him run the point on a few occasions).
It wasn't just one player for the 'Cats though. Villanova played 11 guys and eight of them recorded an assist; seven recorded two or more and Pinkston's two were the fewest of any starter. It is a different kind of offense from what fans might be used to seeing the last few seasons.
"Usually guards are pretty good at that - usually - but when your forwards do that - our two biggest guys have [become good passers] and then everybody else, we kind of want them to be good passers when we recruit them and they need to play together."
The Wildcats also didn't make many mistakes today. Just five turnovers were committed by the Wildcats, and only Darrun Hilliard turned the rock over more than once.
"Everybody is comfortable with what we're doing, comfortable with each other, they've played together," Wright explained. "We have a smart team. They came this way. Josh is that way, [Ochefu] is that way, we had our highest GPA ever this semester, they're just smart guys."
Things got chippy late in the second half. With about five minutes left, Josh Hart was called for a flagrant foul and a technical foul after his elbow made contact with Brandon Young's head on a rebound. Young yelled something after that and a short bout of pushing ensued until referees broke it up. DePaul came out with the free throws and the ball.
Shortly after, another small altercation between Ochefu and DePaul's Billy Garrett caused the referees to pull both teams to center court -- where they were advised to calm down.
Things did calm down. The incident, however, seemed to mar an otherwise good night for Josh Hart. The freshman scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds and two steals. It was his eighth consecutive game with double-digit points and his 10th of the season.
James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono also had big games for Villanova, with Bell leading the team at 17 points and 8 rebounds and Arcidiacono putting in 14 points and 3 assists. Bell heated up in the second half, scoring 10 of his 17 after the break on 3-of-5 shooting from downtown and 6-of-9 overall. Darrun Hilliard was the team's fifth double-digit scorer, getting 11 points after being shut down early.
Villanova's bench contributed 24 points, almost as much as the 26-point difference in the game. DePaul's reserves scored just 8 points. The 'Cats have used depth to their advantage, rotating nine players regularly, with all being able to contribute.