As Villanova prepares to return home to play the Saint Joseph’s Hawks in a Big 5 rivalry game, the Wildcats are also dealing with another opponent that’s been plaguing them the last couple of weeks: a virus that is impacting the team.
Head coach Jay Wright has not disclosed the identity of the virus or who has it, but noted that three players will be a game-day decision for Saturday’s matinee matchup with the Hawks.
“We’ve been dealing with a virus since the Purdue game — different guys have been in and out,” Wright said. “We have a couple of guys that are questionable here. We’ve got them all isolated. It’s not COVID, it’s just another virus that’s been running through our team.
As for the three players that are dealing with it, Wright offered some insight into their current situations.
“Couple of them haven’t been able to practice, we don’t know, we might through them minutes to see how they feel,” Wright said. “One of them could be totally out. We’re all over the place, to be honest, but I don’t want to give anything away in case a guy ends up being able to play or is sick. By some time tomorrow, we’ll make a decision.”
The ‘Cats are playing it totally safe.
“It’s unbelievable how we just went back into COVID mode,” Wright said. “It’s not as dangerous, and we know what the virus is. It’s not the flu and it’s not COVID, so we know people aren’t in danger if they get it and we don’t have to be as frightened. We’re handling it like it’s COVID and trying to stop it. I think if this was in the past, you wouldn’t know how to stop it on your team. Now we have everyone wearing masks, quarantined in rooms, we would have never thought of this in the past.”
It hasn’t dampened the mood though for Saturday’s rivalry game. The Wildcats have won each of the last nine meetings.
“It’s history,” Wright said. “And the great history for the Big 5 and all the legends that have played and coached in it. Just coming out of the Palestra, you saw them all, Jack Ramsey, every Villanova coach — Al Severance, Jack Kraft, Rollie Massimino, Steve Lappas, everybody’s been in it. You look at all the St. Joe’s coaches, they’ve been in it. It’s something we all share and have been in these games, and that’s the great history of it.”
Mikal Bridges love
The Suns enjoyed a no-loss November, and throughout Phoenix’s 18-game winning streak, Mikal Bridges has continued to play well for the Suns.
“I’m so proud to talk about him,” Wright said of Bridges. “I sound like a whiny parent — and I know everyone in Phoenix appreciates him. Jerry Colangelo is a good friend of mine, and he always talks about him, and their staff speak so highly of him, so that’s what’s most important — but it just amazes me when you watch NBA TV shows and they don’t talk about him as defensive player of the year or stuff like that. We always try to stay away from that kind of stuff, so I’ll keep my mouth shut, but he’s so valuable to winning. I don’t know if there’s anyone who did more for winning and probably got less credit, but he doesn’t care. He just loves to win.”
While Bridges came to Villanova a bit undersized and needed to put on weight during his redshirt year, Wright knew that the ceiling was high for him then after what he had seen behind the scenes in the weight room and in the practice gym.
“We all knew in his redshirt year,” Wright said. “It took him some time to develop, but when you saw that competitiveness, that length, that toughness, and that confidence, you knew he had something special. ... I think (the Suns) know the flexibility he gives them. If they need him to score more, he can score. If they need him to be creative, he’ll be creative. If they need him to just defend and rebound, he’ll do that, and I think they understand the value of his unselfishness and talent.
Bryan Antoine update
He sustained a patella tendon injury in October that was originally expected to take six weeks to recover from, but there are even further delays.
“Bryan still seems still a ways away from getting back,” Wright said. “We’re bringing him back gradually. He’s doing some shooting right now, but I think he’s still — I don’t know, but weeks away — from getting back to practice. The good thing is, he knows what we’re doing now. In the past, he would come on the court and start practice, but he hadn’t done anything. At least he’s played now, so he knows what we’re doing.”