Dec. 9, 2012
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - Villanova jumped out to a 14-2 lead in the game's first five minutes and then kept Penn at bay the rest of the night on its way to a 68-55 Philadelphia Big Five victory over the Quakers at the Palestra. The Wildcats are now 5-4 overall, 1-2 in the Big Five while Penn falls to 2-7 overall, 0-1 in the City Series.
"It wasn't pretty by any stretch, but we hung in there and got the road win," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wirght, whose Wildcats are now 2-1 in road venues in 2012-13.
Sophomore Achraf Yacoubou gave Villanova a huge lift off the bench and ended the evening as the Wildcats' leading scorer with a career-high 13 points. Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono finished with 12 points while senior Mouphtaou Yarou and sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston each added 10 points.
The Wildcats gained the upper hand in the game's first five minutes. It began with a Yarou jumper and an exclamation point was added on a Pinkston dunk at 15:36 that made it 12-2 after the Brooklyn, N.Y., native added a free throw to complete the traditional 3-point play. Two more Pinkston free throws pushed the margin to 14-2 with 15:17 to play.
Penn, though, switched out of its man-to-man defense to a series of zones that slowed Villanova's offensive momentum. Neither team managed to create much offensive flow as there were a total of 30 fouls called in the first 20 minutes. The Quakers slowly narrowed the gap thanks to solid work at the free throw line and nine Wildcat turnovers.
A significant play took place just before halftime as Yacoubou picked up a loose ball in the corner and fired home a 3-pointer with four seconds left to re-establish the Wildcats lead at 35-27.
Penn's Miles Cartwright - who would finish with a game-high 16 points - dropped in a 3-pointer to open the second half and the Quakers forced a turnover on the Wildcats' first possession that led to a pair of free throws by Jamal Lewis. However, Lewis missed the free throws and soon the lead was back to 42-34 after a Maurice Sutton dunk with 16:33 to play in the second half.
Another Penn triple, this one by Greg Louis, got the Quakers back to within 42-38 at the 15:02 mark but Villanova kept its cool. A traditional 3-point play from Yacoubou with 11:41 left made it 48-38.
Penn kept pushing but never could put serious heat on the Wildcats for the rest of the night. Yarou came through with eight second half points to help VU keep its firm hold on the game.
"Mouph," stated Wright, "played like a senior."
The final margin was 68-55.
Villanova could credit the victory to sturdy defense - the Quakers recorded only 13 field goals in 39 attempts and leading scorer Fran Dougherty was limited to just three shots and two points - and strong work on the interior. The Wildcats outscored Penn 20-6 in the paint and won the battle of the boards 40-28.
"Our team just needs to play," stated Wright. "We have to go through these experiences together. We are not where any of our fans would want us to be but we understand where we are. We're OK with it.
"We're going to deal with where we are. We have a lot of inexperience. These are great kids who keep getting better. We are going to see how far we can take it this year. I think they can be a good team."
Wright pointed to Yacoubou, a sophomore who connected on 4-of-7 from the field and added six rebounds in 25 minutes of work at the Palestra. His work was especially important with point guards Arcidiacono and Tony Chennault battling foul trouble for much of the evening (each finished with four).
"Asch is a good example of our team," explained Wright. "We know he's got talent and he's learning what we can do. Last year, he was a young freshman and he struggled with it a little bit. He's getting better and better with it this year. We see it in practice every day. He got his opportunity and no one on our team would tell you he was surprised at this.
"It's just a matter of consistency and that is where our team is at. Asch has improved and can continue to improve."
Villanova completes the Philadelphia Big Five portion of its schedule on Tuesday when Saint Joseph's comes to the Pavilion (7:00 p.m./ESPNU).