When Villanova fans hear "Creighton Bluejays," images resurface of the dreaded game two years ago at the Wells Fargo Center. Their offense is still electric, averaging 81.7 PPG; good enough for 22nd in the nation. They're also a top 50 team in assists.
With Daniel Ochefu sitting his second game out with a concussion, it was unclear how the `Cats would respond to Geoffrey Groselle (shooting 70.4% this season) and Zach Hanson (69.3%). And of course, no one could forget about Philadelphia native Maurice Watson Jr. who leads his team with 14.1 PPG and is the star of the `Jays.
But this is now. Creighton is currently in a tie for 4th place in the conference, a lot different than the team who almost took the Regular Season crown two years ago with future-NBA player Doug McDermott. And it showed in tonight's second half. Villanova was too much for the `Jays as they coast to a 83-58 win.
This game started out like two years ago. The teams exchanged three pointers and could not miss. Neither team had a two point basket until Maurice Watson's layup to make the score 15-14.
"We weren't that bad defensively at the beginning," Jay remarked after the game. "They hit some tough shots- Watson hit a couple tough ones, and we know they're capable of that. But I like how we were consistent, and made them rush their shots a bit."
Both teams stayed close for the 12+ minutes of the game. Toby Hegner converted on a three pointer to give Creighton a 24-20 lead, but Villanova responded vehemently. The `Cats went on a 12-2 run capped off by a pair of Josh Hart free throws, and the Bluejays would not get any closer than that. The `Cats lead 45-32 at the half.
The second half was all Wildcats, highlighted by Jalen Brunson drives, Hart threes and Darryl Reynolds dunk. Reynolds finished with 13 rebounds, 6 of which offensive.
Surprisingly, the Bluejays front court of Hegner, Zach Hanson and Groselle finished with just 19 points on just 13 shot attempts all game. With Ochefu out, one would think Creighton would attack inside more, but it wasn't that easy. "Groselle is playing on one foot. I probably got more out of him than I anticipated tonight; he hasn't practiced. But he made a lot of improvement overnight." McDermott added that even with Chef sidelined, the Wildcats defended the paint well: "They make it difficult. The guards, on their switches they defend the post. They have a level of toughness that makes them who they are."
McDermott raved about Josh Hart's improvement over the years. "He's the most improved player in the league. I remember two years ago we didn't guard him on the perimeter, and now he's knocking down threes." Hart finished with 13 points on 4-9 (3-6) shooting along with 9 rebounds.
Watson Jr. finished with a team-high 16 points but shot an inefficient 5-13 from the floor (3-6 from three, however). He dished out 5 assists. Wright praised Reynolds' help defense on him throughout the game. "There were a number of times Reynolds was switched onto Watson and did a great job keeping him in front of him, and we didn't have to help. There was a huge play where he stuck him under the basket, and he shot it and it went out of bounds. That's impressive when your 5 man can switch onto a point guard and stay with him."
Villanova had 19 assists on their 26 made field goals. They outrebounded Creighton 38-27.
Villanova's next game is on Saturday at 2:30pm when they face the Providence Friars. The game will air on FS1.