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Takeaways, pre-game impressions from Jay Wright ahead of UCLA matchup

‘Nova faces a huge early season challenge, and coach Jay Wright shared some thoughts on the matchup.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Hartford Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Jay Wright and the ‘Cats are settled in on the west coast, preparing and counting down until their big matchup with UCLA. With a long day to get through before 11:30 p.m. ET tip-off on Friday night, here are some thoughts from Wright on the upcoming showdown.

“We got in Wednesday night around six or seven, so I feel like we’re pretty accustomed to the time change and ready to go,” Wright said. “...This is a business trip. We’re treating this as if we’re going up to North Philly and playing La Salle. It’s a road game, and we’re treating it the same way and and respect every opponent. We’re got ourselves ready doing our night before the game routine.”

Jay on UCLA

Villanova has a lot of familiar faces back, and UCLA can say the same.

Even as redshirt senior forward Cody Riley went down with a knee injury just four minutes into the college basketball season, that doesn’t change Villanova’s game plan, nor does it make UCLA any less dangerous.

“They’ve got maybe seven or eight guys that are legitimate go-to guys offensively,” Wright said. “(Johnny) Juzang happens to be one of the best in the college game right now, but you can take any of the other starters and those guys are legitimate go-to guys on any team in the country. They’ve got guys coming off the bench that are really good enough to be go-to guys and not complementary players. Their individual offensive power is really impressive.”

Even beyond the stars and the returnees, there’s a lot that impresses Wright.

“There’s so many good things about their team,” Wright said. “I think their basketball IQ as a team is really impressive. Everybody on the floor has just got a great feel for making the right play. Also, defensively, knowing your scouting reports, that’s hard to do. It’s hard to get everyone dialed into that, because I think they have great depth. When I talk about their depth, I’m also talking about their depth in these areas also — IQ, attention to detail. Seems like they can go 10 deep on that team. Never seen a team like that.”

A lot of attention has been on Johnny Juzang and Peyton Watson leading into UCLA’s season and rightfully so. They are both probable first round picks in the next NBA Draft. Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are also notable productive players running it back.

Among the cast and crew is Tyger Campbell, a five-star recruit that once committed to DePaul.

Anyone who watched UCLA’s 17-5 start last season or their tournament run to the Final Four knows that Campbell is the player who paces UCLA. He’s led UCLA in assists in the last two seasons but it’s not just the assists that benefit them, it’s how he gets them that are so important.

He has a tight handle and very rapid change of direction which allows him to usually have his way on the dribble drive. He uses the dribble drive to get into the lane and either finish himself or get a teammate an easy look when the defense collapses. We know some of the struggles the ‘Nova defense had in losses last season against similar guards like Davion Mitchell and Posh Alexander.

“He is a really dynamic point guard,” Wright said. “There are many things that are underestimated about that team and Tyger Campbell is one of them. He is as important to that team as anybody, as Juzang and any of those guys. He’s the motor that makes those guys go, and he can score when he needs to.”

Freshman first impressions

There may not be pressure on this freshman class to deliver immediately but one could say they may determine the eventual ceiling of this team.

That especially goes for Trey Patterson and Nnanna Njoku and the quality minutes and relief they can provide off the bench in the frontcourt. Caleb Daniels and Chris Arcidiacono complete a seven man rotation as good as any in the country. Jordan Longino can even add another promising option in the backcourt.

“I was pleased with our freshmen,” Wright said. “I was happy that we got them minutes. Each one is different. Nnanna hasn’t been able to practice, so it was good to get him minutes. Jordan and Trey are a little bit further along. We’re going to try to redshirt (Angelo) Brizzi. We’re going to try, but we’re not going to say we are. We’re going to keep him available in case we need him if we have injuries down the line.”

While they got some minutes in the season-opening win over Mount St. Mary’s, UCLA will provide a much stiffer challenge.

It will be interesting to see how much these freshmen play Friday night. Any minutes they do get in that kind of environment will be really beneficial for this team come tournament time and for their development.

“Their first college game was Tuesday night, which was important for them to get out of the court in front of the crowd and be depended on by their teammates,” Wright said. “Now, they’re going to play on the road in a great, historical environment and it’s going to be a first for them, so you got to get through these. I do think freshmen are just different these days. I don’t think it’s that big of a moment. I know they’re excited, but I don’t think they get intimidated by these types of moments.”

Familiar Foe

“It’s a really nice mix,” Wright said of Cronin’s style at UCLA. “He’s brought the toughness defensively and rebounding of his Cincinnati teams, and I think he’s added the skill and the athleticism of some of the UCLA teams and put it together. It’s a really good combo.”

It’s a different team and a different time, but Wright would know about that toughness as well as any coach in the country, considering coach Mick Cronin got the best of him three-straight times now. They share a 4-4 record against each other albeit the last matchup coming in February 2013 when both Cronin and Cincinnati were in the Big East.

UCLA gave up the third fewest points per game last season in the Pac-12 and the fewest rebounds per game. If this ends up a being a low scoring game, Villanova will have to match the toughness of UCLA. One thing we know for sure is Jermaine Samuels can match up in toughness with any player in the country, especially on the glass. One aspect to watch is the way UCLA defends the three-point shot. They had awful three-point defense in the Pac 12-last season, so that may be a decider to tip the scales in Villanova’s favor on Friday night.

The Bruins blew out Cal State-Bakersfield in their season opener, but even in the lopsided game, the Roadrunners were still able to find success from deep, shooting a respectable 7-of-17 (41.2%) from beyond the arc.