VILLANOVA, December 3, 2011 – The Villanova Wildcats took the home floor for the first time since their California trip. The game was a Big Five matchup with University of Pennsylvania, a city rival. It was important for Villanova to get off to a good start. The Wildcats did. But this was a Big Five battle as Penn made a comeback to make it interesting near the end. Villanova hung on to earn 73 – 65 win at The Pavilion.
Villanova Junior Center Mouphtaou Yarou led Villanova with a double-double scoring 21 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Guard Zack Rosen was the leading scorer for Penn as he also scored 21 points and added 6 rebounds.
“I thought it was important for us to come out and play well defensively,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “It was great to get ahead and have to play with a lead in the second half. I don’t know if we had done that this year against a team that can beat you.”
The home team opened the game scoring the first eight points of the game. Later Villanova would add to the lead taking a 12 – 2 advantage just over four minutes into the game. The Quakers would start to find some offense trailing by 6 with 7:32 to play in the half. Villanova would start to assert themselves. Yarou would answer for Villanova with a short jumper that started a 14 – 2 run that would give his team a 36 – 18 lead late on the first half. Junior Guard Dominic Cheek scored 5 points in the run, and Yarou would finish it with 2 free throws. Following two Rosen free throws Villanova Freshman Guard Ty Johnson hit a jumper just before the buzzer giving the Wildcats at 38 – 20 lead at halftime.
“We played a great first half defensively,” said Wright. “We know what we can do as that first half defense was great. We learned that we have to play forty minutes.”
Everything was going Villanova’s way. The Wildcats were shooting 51.7%, they has a 14 – 4 edge in Points in the Paint, the bench scoring was 11 – 0 in favor of the Blue and White and Penn did not make a three-point shot to 6 for Villanova. All the while Villanova’s leading scorer Junior Guard Maalik Wayns did not take a shot.
In the second half things began to change. The Red and Blue began chipping away at the Villanova lead. Back to back 3’s by Senior Guard Tyler Bernardini and Sophomore Guard Marin Kukoc, then a Bernardini layup with 12:34 to play cut the deficit to single digits at 42 – 34.
“We gave ourselves a chance because we put stops together,” said Penn Coach Jerome Allen on why his team mounted their comeback. “We got three in a row and that gave us confidence that we could get back in the game.”
Villanova appeared to regain control on a baseline up and under layup and foul shot by Freshman Guard Darrun Hilliard put the Wildcats ahead 53 – 40 at the 6:43 mark. Penn fought back to get to within 8 before Wayns would get his first basket of the game, a three with 4:20 to play.
Zack Rosen and Penn began a furious comeback to make the game tight. Rosen would key a 18 – 11 run as he scored 11 points as Penn got to within 69 – 65 with 15 seconds to play. Rosen scored 15 second half points. Villanova was able to hold-off Penn by making foul shots. Yarou converted 3 of 5 and Wayns made 4 straight. The key plays was a three-point play by Yarou that pushed the lead back to 9 at 66 – 57 with 39.7 seconds left. Sophomore Guard James Bell finished the scoring for Villanova as he converted 4 free throws. Penn outscored Villanova 45 – 35 in the half.
“I’m not sure if our guys were tentative or not ready to play in the first half,” Allen said. “When we had our chance to come up with defensive stops early, then later. Not doing our work early hurt us.”
Yarou made 6 of 13 field goal attempts, and was 8 – 12 from the free throw line. He did not commit a turnover. Wayns had 11 points, under his average, but his contributions were on his defense against Rosen and being the point guard for the team’s offense.
“With Maalik on him (Rosen), he didn’t let him get started.” Wright said. “Maalik was outstanding in running the team. He got people involved the whole game, then at the end of the game the ball was in his hands. He made free throws, he made passes. He was outstanding.”
Villanova is 5 – 2 on the season and is 2 – 0 in Big Five play. The Wildcats prepare for a game at Madison Square Garden against nationally ranked Missouri on December 6.
Penn is 4 – 5 for the year 0 – 2 in the Big Five. The Quakers have played close games against their city rivals. The Red and Blue needed more than a late surge to get past the Blue and White.
“We got something to build on,” said Rosen. “We’re going to go out and play our game against anybody no matter who it is, and do what we do. In the second half we did what we do. We played well enough to win in the second half, but we didn’t deserve to win the way we played in the first half. We didn’t defend the way we should, but we missed a lot of open shots. We could have kept ourselves in it offensively. Coach said we played about seven minutes of Penn basketball. We need to put that together for forty.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian