In the final game of the Gildan Charleston Classic, the Villanova Wildcats won a hard fought game with the University of Central Florida Knights for their 4th consecutive early season tournament championship. Josh Hart, who led the Cats with 15 points, was named tournament MVP. Donte DiVincenzo added a career high 13 points and Kris Jenkins, who was serenaded by the Nova fans in attendance after the game with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”, added another 12. In fact, Villanova had 5 players in double digit scoring for the second consecutive game, despite shooting just 42% from the floor and 26% from deep.
Following the game, Head Coach Jay Wright said, “I feel good about where we are, our path.” It’s good to hear that the coach still feels confident in his team’s play when shots aren’t falling. While both teams had a rough shooting night, it was Villanova’s perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe, compared to UCF’s 2-7, that sealed the game for the champs. That and a strong showing by Nova Nation in the stands, despite the late Sunday night start.
Another factor was Villanova’s defense against another dominant center, this time college basketball’s tallest player in 7’6” Tacko Fall. After the game, Darryl Reynolds commented, “All I could do for the most part was make it difficult for him to get post touches.” The WIldcats took a “bend don’t break” approach with the big man, and despite his 20 points, they still walked away with a double digit victory.
For the second straight game, Phil Booth was relegated to the bench with knee tendinitis, giving Mikal Bridges his second start of the season. He did have an MRI on the knee, but it was clean. Booth participated in warm ups, but even as a game time decision the coaching staff decided to be cautious this early in the season and keep him on the bench. We’ll see if he is ready to get back on the court Wednesday after a few more days rest back on campus.
Early in the first half, Villanova’s pressure defense was leading to quick offense and transition dunks for Mikal Bridges and Kris Jenkins. Jenkins, who was celebrating his birthday with 50 friends and family in attendance, would actually be the driving offensive force scoring 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game.
The teams would go back and forth with neither team being able to hold a significant lead. While Villanova had a clear turnover advantage, they just couldn’t seem to knock down the shots they had been making throughout the early season tournament. That would all change late in the first half when Nova would go on a 17-5 run to close the half, and head into the locker room up 35-23.
UCF would come out strong to start the second half with a 7-0 run of their own. Villanova’s sloppy play and turnovers would fuel that run before they eventually settled down. That said, the Cats below average shooting night continued. In fact, the only Wildcat that seemed to be able to find the bottom of the net was Donte DiVincenzo, who would get into double digit scoring for a second consecutive game.
Josh Hart would help push Nova’s lead back up to 14 with a 9-2 run, and from there the Wildcats would use their defense to seal the deal. Hart has now scored at least 13 points in every game this season, and is averaging over 19 points per game. The Wildcats, now 5-0, will head back to the Pavilion to face Charleston on Wednesday night.
Mikal Bridges started the night on the right foot with a steal and transition dunk for the first points of the game. Villanova would pick up a number of steals early, including a second steal and transition dunk by Kris Jenkins. Despite the early defensive success, the Wildcats still found themselves down early thanks to some hot 3-point shooting by UCF senior guard Matt Williams. The Cats would eventually wrestle the lead back thanks to a pull up jumper by Josh Hart and trio of Jenkins free throws.
Roughly four minutes in, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo came in, but the defensive adjustments didn’t see enough to keep the Knight’s 7’6” center Tacko Fall from getting his inside game going. The lead would go back and forth, with the Wildcats unable to maintain any kind of lead. But Kris Jenkins put the team on his back, and finally got the Cats a two point lead with 13 minutes to play in the first half.
UCF started to commit some unforced turnovers, as well as some forced ones, that the Cats were able to capitalize one. Bridges showed an improve mid-ranged game with a jumper from the top of the key as Villanova slowly began to build its lead. Jenkins’ shot fake was in mid-season form as he picked up his second foul on a shot in the games first 10 minutes. Another two makes from the line, and Jenkins was already in double digits.
Now up 6 at the mid point of the first half, Villanova continued their effective pressure defense, forcing another turnover. Unfortunately the Cats were unable to convert on offense, and on the next trip down Fall showed that he can be disruptive even when he’s not scoring, drawing a foul and then setting a screen for an easy bucket. In just three possessions, UCF went on a 6-0 run to tie the game back up at 18-18 with 7:54 left to play.
Darryl Reynolds would come out of the timeout and give Villanova the lead back with a mid range, baseline jumper. DiVincenzo would follow that with a three pointer from the same side in the corner. Brunson would then hit another three from the top of the arc on the next possession, and just like that the Wildcats had their biggest lead of the game at 8.
The teams would trade baskets for the rest of the half, but Villanova was able to maintain their lead. Even when Villanova was missing their shots, they showed tremendous fight to pick up offensive rebounds and share the ball offensively. With just over 2 minutes to play in the half, the lead was extended to double digits as Villanova’s superior athleticism began to become an issue for the UCF Knights. The Cats would keep their momentum going the rest of the half, and go into the locker room up 35-23.
Villanova would start the second half with some sloppy offense, opening the door for UCF to start cutting into their lead. The Knights would start the half with a 7-0 run, including a powerful dunk by Fall over Josh Hart. Villanova turnovers continued to limit their offensive opportunities, but a clutch runner in the paint by Jalen Brunson would finally get Villanova on the board 4 minutes into the second half.
After a timeout and some time to compose themselves, the Cats were finally able to settle down and start to build their lead again. A big part of that offensive push was Donte DiVincenzo, who was connecting from all over the court. Josh Hart, who had an uncharacteristically quiet first half, would also find his shot again mid-way through the second. Despite the poor shooting night, Nova was still able to hold onto their lead with stingy defense.
Eventually, Villanova would find its offense again, and go on a 9-2 run of their own, mainly fueld by Josh Hart, who now has scored at least 13 points in every game this season. Despite a late run by UCF, Villanova was able to maintain its lead and close out their fifth win of the season.