Last year there was no problem at all. Villanova ran through the Big 5, taking down every foe with ease. Today marked the beginning of another chapter in the history books of the Big 5. Villanova and La Salle were presented with a fresh start. Unfortunately for La Salle, it appeared that not much has changed since last season. The Wildcats resumed their winning ways and sent a warning for the rest of the Philadelphia-area schools.
It took Villanova a few minutes to warm up the engine on this cold December night. Once they heated up, it was over for the Explorers. From opening tip, La Salle made it clear that they were going to give their best. They hung around, as both teams engaged in a back-and-forth series in the opening minutes of the game. Until finally, Villanova broke through with a 16-5 run. The Wildcats employed the two facets of their game plan that have not failed so far, excellent ball movement and suffocating defense. Villanova continued to move the ball around, finding the optimal method of attack to get the shots to fall. They put together one of their more efficient halves, making 58.1% of their shots in the first half. As for the defense, Villanova forced La Salle to turn the ball over eight times and converted those turnovers into 17 first half points. However, the Wildcats didn’t look like their usual selves out there. Known for their “shoot ’em up, sleep in the streets” mindset, Villanova strayed away from the long range shot. The Wildcats employed superb ball fakes, getting defenders to bite on the jump shot while they turned and drove inside. They shot the ball only six times from beyond the arc, making four of them. A last second basket for Darrun Hilliard off of the assist by Josh Hart, provided the last few points before the buzzer went off. Villanova took a 47-29 lead going into the break.
The dominating first half performance set the pace for the second half. While the Wildcats slowed down a bit, the lead they built up for themselves was too impossible for the Explorers to topple. Villanova held onto the double digit lead, never relinquishing it. A pair of free throws by JayVaughn Pinkston pushed the lead into the twenties with 6:09 remaining in the game. However, it wouldn’t last long. La Salle chipped in a few points to bring it back down, but ultimately never came close to beating Villanova. The Wildcats were simply too much for the Explorers in every aspect of the game. While La Salle was able to minimize the amount of turnovers in the second half, they couldn’t stop the arsenal of offensive weapons. 20 of Villanova’s 30 made shots were off of assists. They got everyone involved, as five different Wildcats scored at least ten points. It didn’t help that Villanova was having one of their finer nights from the free throw line, making 17 of 21 attempts. Everything came together for a nice, smooth 84-70 win.
For Villanova, Dylan Ennis and Darrun Hilliard were the team’s scoring leaders. They had 15 points apiece. Ennis was perfect from beyond the arc, making all three attempts. He also added nine assists and three rebounds. Hilliard had a pair of steals to go along with his performance. JayVaughn Pinkston and Josh Hart both had 12 points. Pinkston grabbed seven boards and dished out three assists. Meanwhile, Hart was the spark Villanova needed off the bench. Hart chipped in three rebounds and two assists. Daniel Ochefu enjoyed another solid game in the paint. The junior center finished with ten points and eight assists, making every shot.
Once again, Jerrell Wright proved to be a force inside for La Salle. Wright had a game-high 19 points off of 6-for-8 shooting and made all of his seven free throw attempts. Khalid Lewis contributed 17 points and three rebounds. As for Jordan Price, the sophomore had a difficult time in trying to figure out Villanova’s defense. The Wildcats held him to 10 points off of a 2-for-8 shooting percentage. Price couldn’t find his stroke from long range, missing all four attempts.
The Wildcats improve to 7-0 and will come back home for another Big 5 game against St. Joe’s. Tip-off is at 1 p.m. on Saturday. At 4:30 p.m., after the basketball game, Villanova football squares off against Liberty in their first playoff game. Please come support the football team, the stadium is right next door to the Pavilion.