“Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and see the National Champions right before your eyes.
“Watch Championship game hero Kris Jenkins knock down 3-pointers almost effortlessly. .. See Josh Hart slither to the basket or bury a jump shot whenever he’s in the mood… Be amazed by Jalen Brunson’s ability to find the open man… Marvel at Mikal Bridges as he leaps to the sky… Shudder when Darryl Reynolds swats away a shot or pulls down a rebound…”
That’s how Jay Wright thinks the college basketball world looks at his No. 1 Villanova Wildcats, who disposed of plucky Providence, 78-68, at their home away from home, the Wells Fargo Center, Saturday. That runs their record to 19-1 and likely solidifies their hold at the top of the Associated Press rankings.
“You sense every home game is a like a show, not a competition,” admitted Wright, after the ‘Cats made 12 of their first 17 shots in the second half to turn a 35-31 nail biter into a 64-44 blowout, then withstood a hail of Friars’ treys over the last 10 minutes. “You feel like everyone’s coming to see the show.
“You can’t do that as a player because the other team’s coming to beat the top team in the country and they’re at another level. But your players sense it, because of everything going on around them , the way everybody treats them.
“It’s definitely there and you really have to address it and deal with it.”
Not that Wright is complaining. Besides, Hart and Jenkins, who combined for 44 points (25 by Hart) while shooting 17-for-28 from the floor, trust the man in charge.
“We just have to be humble and coachable,” said Hart, who seemed to come up with a steal or clutch hoop whenever the 13-8 Friars seemed on the verge of making it interesting. “Coach has been coaching longer than we’ve been alive.
“He has the experience. We have to lean on his experience, because he’s been through these situations.”
“That hurts,” laughed the 55-year-old Wright, who indeed is now in his 16th season here, after seven at Hofstra. “But it’s the truth.”
So is the fact these Wildcats don’t want to rest on their laurels, which currently have them back on top of the Big East at 7-1.
”I believe every guy in this locker room wants to continue to grow,” said Jenkins, who was joined in double figures by Hart, Bridges (15) and Brunson (13), while Reynolds pulled down a game high 10 rebounds. “We’re not just satisfied with something we did last year, because this is a brand new year.”
To have a chance to match last year’s success, Wright has come to the realization that his team, which isn’t that big and is missing Phil Booth to injury, needs to be more efficient playing zone. Against Providence, who upset the ‘Cats here last year, they had moderate success, though the fact the Friars shot better from the outside (shooting 13-for-26 on threes) than the inside (9-for-24) had to be a concern.
“We have to get more consistent defensively playing zone,” explained Wright, who’ll next take on Marquette in Milwaukee Tuesday, before ACC power Virginia comes to town Sunday. “At times we were really good today and at times we broke down.
“We gave up a lot of threes in our zone, so we’re still a work of progress defensively. It’s important because you can’t play teams like Kansas in the NCAA Tournament man-to-man.
“So you can’t go to zone and not be good at it. We’re not right now and we need it, because we got good at it last year.”
And everyone knows how that season wound up.