The saying goes "Live by the 3, die by the 3." Tonight, the Wildcats were Livin` La Vida Loca.
"Usually you sit behind the microphone and lament your own team," Xavier's Coach Chris Mack said in his opening statements, "but I'm just gonna be honest- Villanova is a better team."
The Villanova Wildcats started out 4-5 from beyond the arc thanks to Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono, Dylan Ennis and Josh Hart respectively. They would eventually hit 8 of their first 12 threes and went on to defeat the Xavier Musketeers 88-75.
"That surprised me a little bit," said Wright of the early shooting efforts. "We can shoot the ball, but we had great ball movement and guys were stepping into their shots with great timing. If you do that properly, everyone will make shots."
Josh Hart was his usual aggressive self and lead all scores with 12 at the half on 5-7 shooting. He finished the game with 15 points and Ryan Arcidiacono lead all scorers with 18.
"He's one of the best offensive rebounders I've ever coached" Wright said of Hart. Hart finished with 3 OREB's on missed three pointers. "We teach rebounding, but to do it like that that comes from the heart, the desire."
No pun intended?
Hart added "It's something I was good at in high school. I was always taught 'Go after your shot, get after the ball.'"
The first half was all Wildcats; the lead never dipped below 10 after the the beginning minutes. A big factor in their early success was assists. The Wildcats had 14 assists at halftime which is two below their average for an entire game. Tie together with their great ball-handling (only 3 turnovers) and it's no wonder Villanova had a 45-27 lead.
The `Cats would complete the game with 24 ASSISTS with their 28 made baskets. "Yeah, that's nice" Wright joked. "It's all about making that extra pass. You're not just getting the shot, you're getting the best shot."
Xavier hit only 2 of the 10 threes they attempted in the first half. They hit 10 of 19 shots from within the arc, however, and that success would continue throughout the game.
The game got scary in the middle of the second half when Xavier decided to go inside. Villanova had no answer for Matt Stainbrook and Trevon Bluiett as they hit their hook shots in the paint on each possession. The Musketeers went on an 11-0 run thanks in part to Stainbrook, and cut its deficit to 10. Stainbrook finished with a team-high 17 points in the game.
When I asked him on his gameplan on Stainbrook, he admitted "it wasn't a good one. We tried to keep a fresh body on him, but we have to give him credit on his stamina. We had Pinkston and Ochefu on him, and waited to give help. When he didn't get the ball, he got an offensive rebound. He did a good job, he's a tough cover."
To add to the fire, Villanova's shooting tapered way off. After starting 8 from 12 from beyond the arc, they struggled to hit 3 of their next 15 three pointers.
"They did a great job keeping the ball away from Daniel and JayVaughn. We got threes because of it, but we really did struggle to get the ball inside. When we struggled to get threes, that was our plan, but we just couldn't get it in there."
Both Ochefu and Pinkston had quiet games. Ochefu finished with 6 points on 2-4 shooting (2-3 FT) and 6 rebounds and now has two quiet games in a row following his two double-doubles vs. the Seton Hall Pirates and St. John's Red Storm. Pinkston had 12 points (3-4 shooting, 6-6 FT) and 3 rebounds.
A recent struggle for this team, especially in their only loss of the season, was free throw shooting. The Wildcats took a big step in the right direction tonight as they hit 17-19 in the game. Even with the troubles at the charity stripe, Coach Wright said the team is doing all they can. "We probably work on free throw shooting more than anyone in the country. We never worry about missing them. We put in as much work as you possibly can on it, so if we're missing them, we can't do anything more. So, we don't get on guys missing them. Like the Seton Hall game, we don't count that as why they lose. We'll shoot over 70% from the foul line in the end."
Coach Mack added some interesting comments after the game regarding the team's previous matchup at Butler. "Leaving [Butler] I don't think some guys had the heart. So we played the guys that had the most heart. We may not have had the best lineup." There had not been any previous reports regarding Mack losing his team, or some athletes not putting in work.
They take on the Penn Quakers this Saturday at 7:00pm in the wrap-up of Big 5 play. The game should be broadcast on ESPN3
"Winning at Penn will be really great. It's a tough road game, and at the end we'll talk about what those games did forus."