The Villanova Wildcats had every opportunity to hit the panic button coming into their Saturday afternoon contest with Georgetown. After all, how can a twenty point defeat just over three weeks ago not stir up memories of a similar beat down at the hands of Creighton last season.
Instead, from the opening warmups to the final buzzer, Villanova demonstrated the attitude of a team that believes they are the class of the conference. And for good reason. The Wildcats got the revenge they so clearly desired, beating the Hoyas with a final score of 69-53. Freshman L.J. Peak paced Georgetown with 15 points while Darrun Hilliard II led the way for the Wildcats with 15 of his own.
So what was the difference between the two contests? Coach Wright thinks the answer is fairly simple. "We looked at the tape. We were so bad. Our staff asked ourselves, 'was it our scheme or were we that bad?' So we basically had the same gameplan and just played better and harder."
The rematch showed the makings of an old-school Big East rumble early and often. A four point play from Darrun Hilliard II, three jump balls, two blocks from Dylan Ennis, and one massive crowd made for as energetic of a start as the Wildcats have seen to date. Consecutive three point field goals from Jabril Trawick and Hilliard left the game tied at 5-5.
After being withheld from the starting lineup for a "minor academic issue," Daniel Ochefu stepped into action just before the first media timeout. His 6’11"presence made an immediate impact for the Wildcats, snatching two offensive rebounds and dishing three assists.
Ochefu, along with frontcourt mate JayVaughn Pinkston, did an excellent job of limiting Georgetown’s infamous center, Joshua Smith. Two quick fouls and a healthy dose of bodying up limited the big man to only seven minutes and two points in the first half.
For a team that, of late, has emerged from the locker room to start the first half lethargic on offense and disinterested on defense, Villanova had no such concern facing Georgetown. Presented with the task of tracking endless back doors cuts and off ball screens, the Wildcats impressed with well-timed rotations. Dylan Ennis, in particular, continued his push as perhaps his team’s best defender. Coach Wright recognized his junior's impact. "Dylan has been great leading us defensively for a while." The junior from Canada never left Smith-Rivera’s side, holding the Big East player of the year candidate to 0-4 shooting in the first half.
The shooting woes carried over to the entirety of the Georgetown roster. Coach Thompson III saw his team shoot 9-29 (31%) overall and an abysmal 1-8 from downtown. No Hoya exceeded six points at intermission, with Peak reaching the high water mark on 3-9 shooting.
Back to back to back threes from Phil Booth (step in from transition), Ryan Arcidiacono (step back off the dribble), and Kris Jenkins blew the game open to a 32-15 Villanova advantage.
Hilliard paced all scorers in the first half, scoring 14 points on an efficient 5-7 from the field. Two of those baskets came at especially critical moments in the game flow. When the Wildcats needed their senior most, he filled the void and then some.
For those keeping track, Dylan Ennis is the most recent Wildcat to join the exclusive Dwayne Anderson "sprint back on transition, dive face first, and pray that you knock the ball free" club. The all-out hustle play led to an easy Pinkston layup.
Villanova stabbed the proverbial dagger with fourteen minutes remaining in the second half. Or rather, Kris Jenkins did. Two offensive rebounds from Ochefu and Hilliard and a beautiful cross court assist led to a wide open look from downtown. Another dish from Dylan Ennis on the subsequent possession, another Jenkins three pointer. Wildcats led 51-29.
Generous passing continued to grace the Villanova box score, where they assisted on 15 of 22 (68%) made baskets. Hilliard and Ochefu notched the highest totals, dishing out 4 and 3 dimes respectively. But perhaps more impressively, nine different Wildcats recorded at least one assist.
While the game might have been out of reach, Georgetown was not ready to back down. Constant chirping between both sides and an extremely physical affair culminated in a double-technical shared by Hilliard and Jabril Trawick after the two exchanged words at half-court. According to Hilliard, there are no hard feelings though. "He's from Philly, he's a great competitor. You wouldn't want to play against anyone else." While the scrappy play continued, it proved to be the highest point of contention for the remainder of the contest.
His impact was limited to only six minutes of action, but much can be said over the quiet presence of Daryl Reynolds. The sophomore, relegated to the bench for the vast majority of the season to date, took the court with 10 minutes remaining after Daniel Ochefu picked up his fourth foul. He provided solid rim protection and was even able to muscle up a layup against Smith on the block. Certainly far from a finished product, Reynolds showed he has the tools to become an effective weapon off the bench.
Despite the sixteen point margin of victory, there were still flaws within the offense. The Wildcat backcourt was able to penetrate the defense towards the baseline, but Georgetown's defensive gameplan called for a quick double before the ball could reach the basket. The strategy resulted in wild, blind passes; Villanova finished the game with an ugly 20 turnovers.
Still though, it's tough to come away from this particular Big East showdown anything but impressed with the Wildcats. By every metric, whether it's the eye test or an RPI ranked 21st, Georgetown is considered one of the best teams in the conference and in the conversation to make some serious noise come March. This is a very good team that Villanova made look, simply put, inferior. When they are on their game, swinging the ball for open threes, sinking their free throws, and causing havoc on defense, this group of Wildcats is one of the top teams in the nation.
Looking forward, Coach Wright is ready to employ the same strategy the Wildcats have used all season. "We're just gonna try to get better tomorrow and Monday, at some of the things we want to do. As we've gotten better defensively, we've slipped a bit offensively. We just hope to get to a point at the end of the season where we can be as good and efficient as possible."
Villanova will look to capitalize on their victory as they take on the Providence Friars. The game will take place on Wednesday at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, tipping off at 8:00 Eastern.