This season, the Villanova defense has been downright ferocious. The group can routinely be seen swarming aroundthe ball to force turnovers, hounding shooters into tough, contested shots, turning each possession into a test of wills.
No wonder they’re now 15-1 after dismantling DePaul 81-64 Saturday, a game in which they led as much as 69-35 with 9:14 remaining.
While many were celebrating the WIldcats’ season-high tying 13 3-pointers — four apiece by Darrun Hilliard (21 points) and Ryan Arcidiacono (14) — the rest were simply mesmerized by the Nova lockdown defense.
“I was very proud of that defensive effort,” said head coach Jay Wright, whose No. 8 ranked club has bounced back from last week’s 66-61 overtime loss at Seton Hall to beat St. John’s and DePaul by 35 combined points. “We try to recruit guys who come from successful programs knowing it’s gonna be easy to get them to buy in to playing defense. There aren’t any successful programs that don’t play good defense.”
Take Arcidiacono, the plucky 6-3 juniorfrom Langhornewho arrived on the Main Line with a reputation as a shooter, but has evolved into solid all-around player.
“My coach in high school (Neshaminy’s, Jerry Devine) loved offense, but also loved defense,”Arcidacono said.”He’d take me out when I didn’t play defense.It’s not about us trying to break the other team. We just want to keep coming at them and coming at them. It gets our whole team going.’’
For the season opponents are shooting just 40.2 percent against the Wildcats, who rely on big men Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston to patrol the rim, while pesky Dylan Ennis, Hilliard, Arcidiacono and sixth man Josh Hart wreak havoc on the perimeter.
Against a 9-8 DePaul team that has no one on the level of former greats George Mikan, Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings, this was no contest. Then again, for Villanova that’s been the case virtually all season.
And that’s with the usually deadly Arcidiacono, shooting just 31.2 percent prior to Saturday.
“I don’t dwell on my stats,” said Arcidiacono, the lone Wildcat starter averaging below double figures (8.3).”I know I haven’t shot it that well, but it hasn’t affectedhow I play and the defense I play.My role has changed throughout my years here. People can see it on the court. My freshman year I had to score and make all the plays.Sophomore year was a little bit less, more of a point guard role. Now it’s just reading how the defense plays me and the rest of the team.I’m still staying aggressive. If I have my shots, take them. If I start making shots that would be great but it’s not gonna change the way I play.”
Next up is Xavier, another school with a rich tradition new to the revamped Big East.But these ‘Cats don’t really concern themselves so much with the opponent as focusing on themselves, especially when it comes to shutting teams down on the defensive end.