When Jay Wright takes Villanova on the road, he doesn’t walk into the gym and immediately measures the height of the basket and the distance to the foul line, a la “Hoosiers.” And when the Wildcats need a hoop late in the game they don’t run the “picket fence.”
The fact is it doesn’t matter to the reigning National Champions where—or even who– they play. Just so long as they’re playing.
So after disposing of stubborn Providence 85-67 at their cozy refurbished Pavilion on Wednesday, a game where they trailed 57-55 with 9:17 left in the game, before going on a 28-8 run, Wright shrugged off concerns of the No. 13 ranked Wildcats upcoming schedule.
Despite a Madison Square Garden date against St. John’s on Sunday, followed by trips to Georgetown and Xavier, he’s happy to take his chances with this team.
“We really don’t care where we play,” said Wright, after fifth-year seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth scored 25 and 22 points respectively to help them overcome a sluggish start and improve to 20-5.
“We talk about 94-by-50 feet”, he explained. “We’re on a basketball court. We enjoy being on the road. We enjoy being at home. It really doesn’t bother us.”
Thanks largely to that mindset through the years Nova has always more than held its own in hostile arenas, where many teams can get rattled. Coming off a 66-65 defeat at Marquette last Saturday, where the Wildcats had the final possession but failed to get off a decent shot, they were able to turn the page and focus on the next task at hand.
“We knew we had to get better,” said Booth, who made it a point to get to the basket with Providence doing a good job defending the three-point line. “We had a whole bunch of little things to work on. We just try to stay aggressive,” he added.
“We know they’re going to take away threes, but we saw a lot of driving lanes and it worked for us.” That came as no surprise to the Friars.
“When you’re defending against Villanova you’ve got to be on high alert on the drive and on the threes,” said head coach Ed Cooley, whose club fell to 0-2 vs. the Wildcats this season after taking them into overtime in last year’s Big East championship game. “If they’re making free throws and threes you’re not going to beat them too often.”
“We did a decent job on one of the two in the first half (Villanova went 14-for-14 at the line to take a 39-34 lead, but only 3-for-11 behind the line), but their coach is a Hall of Fame coach,” continued Cooley. “They made the adjustment and drove it on us.”
Furthermore, Cooley pointed out how when you are going against a veteran team such as Villanova, you have to play a complete game from start to finish.
“When you’ve got a mature group with three fifth-year players, that’s a lot of adults on the floor and most old teams win. You’ve got to put a 40-minute game together playing on the road against a ranked team used to winning which has two of the best players in the league.”
That’s just one reason why Villanova is now 12-1 playing both on campus and within the city limits—the lone loss to new Big Five champ Penn at the Palestra– after dropping back-to-back November Pavilion games to Michigan and upstart Furman. Ironically, though, their games at the Pavilion have been greatly contested, with Villanova actually trailing more than ahead.
“We’re far from a finished product,” said Wright, as the 11-1 Wildcats maintained their one-game Big East lead over Marquette, who comes to the Pavilion on Feb. 27. “We’re just getting better game-by-game in small increments. We got great leadership from the two seniors tonight. They’ve been carrying us a lot. Eric and Phil keep everybody together.”
Nevertheless, that is the plan they’ll also take on the road over the next 10 days. “To beat a team twice in this conference is extremely difficult,” said Booth, who is averaging 18.5 points a game, followed by Paschall (17.6).
“It gets harder every time. So we just have to stay solid and prepare for each game. Just take one game at a time and keep the focus on us.”