Despite a sloppy start, the Villanova Wildcats were able to cruise past the UC Riverside Highlanders in the opening round of the 76 Classic, recording a 71-46 win. Check here for the box score.
UCR had the upper hand early, hitting their first 3 shots from the floor along with a couple of FT's to take a 9-3 lead that had 'Nova fans scratching their heads. But things quickly turned around once Mouphtaou Yarou asserted himself. Yarou recorded a block, a lay-in, and then perhaps the play of the season thus far by stripping a UCR player at the top of the key, running the floor all alone and acrobatically finishing for the bucket. He then took a charge on the back of that to end a 2-3 minute stretch that was just brilliant.
'Nova took a 32-16 lead into the half despite just 1 FG from both Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns. From there on though, Jay Wright put the team on cruise control.
More after The Jump.
Whatever Leek drank at halftime to refuel, let's give him that for the full 40 minutes next time out. Wayns came out of the halftime gates on fire, scoring at will and in a multitude of ways - most notably by getting into the lane and finishing, something all 'Nova fans would like to see more often. He finished with 23 points and 7 assists.
The consistently large lead that 'Nova possessed throughout the second half gave Jay Wright an opportunity to try out some new lineups, the most consistent aspect being that Wayns, Cheek and Yarou were not involved. This led to some sloppy play from Villanova - a clear sign that the aforementioned trio is vital to Villanova's success this year.
Darrun Hilliard was impressive on this night, as was James Bell. The freshman showed a smooth stroke from long range, going 3-3 and helping to stretch the UCR defense a bit. Bell went 3-4 from downtown as well and was impressive on defense and with his rebounding.
The Villanova D, while a bit sloppy at times, did a nice job on UCR star Phil Martin, basically blanking him throughout the game. Only sophomore Daymond Cowlah gave them a bit of trouble, though he was mostly matched up with Darrun Hilliard and was clearly a step quicker than the frosh.
Dominic Cheek basically did nothing on offense tonight, yet showed his maturity by continuing to help the team in other ways, both with his defense and rebounding. It was good to see that when his offense was not there, others stepped up.
The main story of this game was that it was a complete mismatch in talent. That won't be the case tomorrow night when 'Nova takes on the Saint Louis Billikens in the semifinals of the 76 Classic. We'll have our preview for that game up shortly, and our 'Cheers' and '/Facepalms' up in the morning.
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