PHILADELPHIA, PA. 1/10/2018 – Coming in this was the premier college basketball game in the country. Number 1 vs. Number 10. The top ranked Wildcats of Villanova faced the Xavier Musketeers who have defeated the number one team in the nation four of its last six times, one of which was Villanova.
Obviously, the Wildcats were paying attention. Nova clamped down on defense, got off to fast starts at the beginning of each half, and earned a 89 – 65 win over Xavier, their sixth win at home against the Musketeers.
For the Cats it was focusing on the defensive end of the floor and rebounding that was the key to victory. They held Xavier to their lowest point total of the season, and did not allow the opponent to get on a sustained run. How do you do that? According to Villanova Coach Jay Wright, it’s practice, practice, practice.
“We’ve been struggling on defense and our guys stepped it up tonight,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright.
“We’ve had a couple more practices, but you have to keep working at it.”
“You’ve got to get back to your habits and play together. Playing together on defense is just as important as playing together on offense. We still have a lot of work to do.”
On the defensive end of the floor the Wildcats held Musketeers (15 – 3, 3 – 2) to 41.4% shooting. In the first half they made just 34.4% en route to a two-game losing skid.
Villanova raced out to an 18 – 6 lead within the first seven minutes of the game. The lead would extend to 40 – 28 at halftime. The Musketeers did regain some of their footing, but in the second half the Cats extended their advantage to 58 – 38 six minutes into the stanza. It looked good on offense, but the team continued to focus on defense.
“People were feeling they could score on us at any time, and we take that personally from the coaches, captains and down to the team,” said Phil Booth who scored a career-high 21 points and dished out 4 assists. He also had 4 steals.
For the contest Villanova shot 32 – 58 from the floor making more than half their shots, and went 12 – 31 from three-point land. They committed 8 turnovers, 2 in the first half. Defensively, Villanova forced 15 Xavier turnovers, 10 by steals. The Cats kept it close in rebounds getting 31 to 34 for the opposition.
“They do that to a lot of teams,” said Xavier Coach Chris Mack. “They come out, shoot threes. They’re a good program.”
“We didn’t play well and Villanova had a lot to do with that.”
Four other Wildcats scored in double figures. Jalen Brunson scored 17 points and handed out 5 assists. Mikal Bridges scored 15 points and grabbed a game-high 9 rebounds. Eric Paschall shot a near perfect 5 for 6 with 2 three-pointers to total 14 points and 4 assists. Donte DiVincenzo added 11 points.
Karem Kanter headed Xavier with 16 points and 5 rebounds. Naji Marshall added 13 and Trevon Bluiett had 11. The team could not recover from the start.
Nova improves to 15 – 1 and are 3 – 1 in the Big East, currently tied for second place with Seton Hall. Villanova embarks on a three-game road trip going to St. John’s on Saturday followed by games at Georgetown before playing a non-conference game against an old-time rival, the Connecticut Huskies in Storrs. The key is to keep improving especially on defense.
“Practicing our defense and rebounding, that’s what made us go today,” Bridges said. “We know what we had to do. We’ll keep getting and go on from there.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian