The Wildcats corrected their bad habits in Thursday’s game against #6 Xavier. With 2015 coming to a close, and the New Year and conference play beginning, it was important to correct such flaws.
As a result, it helped them put together their best game of the season so far, beating the Musketeers 95-64.
Going in, the Wildcats had been marred by slow starts and shaky shooting performances, but they wouldn’t continue today.
A scary moment occurred in the opening minutes of the game, when Xavier’s Edmond Sumner hit the floor hard after being fouled during a layup attempt.
Medical teams and trainers from both sides attended to freshman guard, who had to be carried off the court by a stretcher.
“He kind of drives their engine,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We’ll all be praying for him. That was scary and I’m sure that affected them. We played well and they had to play without one of their best players.”
The Musketeers’ Jalen Reynolds sank two free throws in place of Sumner once play resumed, giving Xavier a 5-4 lead with 17:39 to go in the first half.
It would be the last time Xavier had the lead, as Villanova went on a 13-0 run to get ahead.
The Wildcats’ swarmed all over the floor on defense, disrupting passing lanes, stripping the ball cleanly, and forcing turnovers.
On the other end of the court, they had the green light and hot hands. Villanova started the game 8-for-11 from beyond the arc.
It felt like Ryan Arcidiacono couldn’t miss, pulling up from well past behind the three-point line for a couple of shots and still making them.
The senior guard made each of his first four three-pointers from long range. With Jalen Brunson playing limited minutes due to a stomach illness, the team needed him to step up and shoulder more responsibilities.
He did just that.
“[Jalen’s] the point guard and when he’s in, he handles the ball, but once I knew he was out, I was like, ‘Alright, this is my game,'” Arcidiacono said.
He controlled the floor with confidence and got the crowd going with each and every made basket.
Arcidiacono was one of the catalysts for helping Villanova’s lead grow. He had 17 of the Wildcats’ 48 first half points.
Xavier found itself in a familiar position like the one from the Wake Forest game, down by 18 at the half. Except this time, Villanova didn’t give them a chance to come back.
Josh Hart, who was scoreless in the first half, came right out of the gate to score 13 straight points for the Wildcats.
Once Villanova pushed the lead into the twenties and eventually thirties, it was safe to say that the game was over. The Wildcats never let up and continued to pour it on.
“We played our best 40 minutes of Villanova basketball,” Wright said.
Defensively, the ‘Cats forced 19 turnovers and converted those into 26 points.
On the other end of the court, they shot 36-for-57 (63.2%) overall and made 13-of-25 (52.0%) shot attempts from three-point range.
To go along with his 27 points, Arcidiacono chipped in eight assists. His seven made three-pointers tie a personal best from 2013.
“It’s definitely up there with his best games, but it’s not a surprise to anybody in our program,” teammate Daniel Ochefu said. “That’s just Arch. I didn’t see a difference, even when he started making shots, it was just regular Arch.”
Arcidiacono’s play seemed contagious, as everyone in Villanova’s starting lineup scored in double figures. Daniel Ochefu scored 12 points and added 10 rebounds. He even showed off his passing ability as a big man, dishing out five assists. Hart added 15 points off of a perfect 6-for-6 shooting performance. Kris Jenkins chipped in 13 points, while Phil Booth had 10.
For Xavier, James Farr and J.P. Macura had strong performances off the bench. Farr finished with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds. Meanwhile, Macura added 12 points and five boards. Trevon Bluiett had 11 points.
The Wildcats improve to 11-2. They can expect a rise in the polls, barring a loss in their next game against Creighton. Villanova heads over to Omaha for a game against the Bluejays on Saturday, January 2. Tip-off will be at 10 p.m. ET.