The Villanova Wildcats were back to being themselves on Sunday night when they beat the La Salle Explorers in an impressive 76-47 fashion.
Not only were they back on their home court, but the signature Villanova hustle and defense that has won the hearts of the fans in the Pavilion was present. The crowd was also treated to an efficient, balanced Wildcat offensive performance.
The Wildcats shot 13-for-28 (46.4%) from long range and was 28-of-51 (54.9%) on the floor.
After suffering a disappointing 78-55 loss to Oklahoma in Hawaii at the Pearl Harbor Invitational last Monday, Villanova shook off its sluggish defense and an offense that could not seem to get anything going. The team came out with a revamped attitude and game plan, using the Oklahoma loss as a learning moment.
“I know everybody sees 4-for-32 but that was the least of it,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “It was really all of the other little things that we didn’t do to make up for the 4-for-32. Maybe we don’t win that game but we’re in it until the end if we do the little things.”
The usual starters were in for Villanova on Sunday night except for one familiar face, Kris Jenkins, who did not start due to a “minor disciplinary issue.” But regardless, the ‘Cats had a quick pace pretty early on, which definitely set the tone for the rest of the game.
Josh Hart had the hot hand in the beginning of the first half, which seemed to rub off on other players. Hart lead all scorers with 13 of his 18 points coming from the first half alone. As a team, they came out much better than they did in the Oklahoma game.
“We needed to reestablish ourselves as Villanova basketball,” Ryan Arcidiacono said.
The tone was different on both ends of the court, with the Wildcats’ aggressive defense making its mark and leading to easy points off turnovers. Villanova took a 38-23 lead into the half.
The Wildcats continued to roll on both ends of the court in the second half, never letting up on the Explorers. La Salle did not have an answer for Villanova, as the gap between the two teams ballooned. Villanova continued to make its shots, while maintaining the intensity on the defensive end.
Villanova coasted to victory, with everyone getting a piece of the action. While it was a solid bounce back win for the team, Wright still believes that this team is not where it needs to be.
“We are a work in progress,” he said. “This group is not a well oiled machine, but we have a chance to get a lot better and we’re learning.”
Five different Wildcats finished scoring in double figures. Hart led the pack with 18 points. Arcidiacono had a strong performance, scoring 14 points off of a perfect 5-for-5 shooting performance on the floor and dishing out seven assists. Phil Booth had 10 points. Mikal Bridges added another strong performance off the bench with 12 points. Meanwhile, Jalen Brunson rounded it off with 13 points. Daniel Ochefu also had a solid game with 6 points, all of which were slam dunks, and 10 rebounds.
For La Salle, Jordan Price led the team with 16 points. Price entered Sunday as the second highest scorer in the NCAA, but was contained by a strong Villanova defensive effort. Price shot just 6-of-17 on the floor and turned the ball over four times. Johnnie Shuler added 11 points and five rebounds for the Explorers.
Villanova improves to 8-1 and 2-0 in Big Five play. The Wildcats resume action on Saturday for a 12 p.m. tip-off against Virginia.
Donte Divincenzo did not play in today’s game due to a foot injury. He is expected to also miss Saturday’s game at Virginia. He is averaging 9.3 minutes per game, scoring just 1.9 points per game and 2.0 rebounds per game.