Dec. 22, 2010
WWEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. (AP) - With less than a second remaining in the first half, Villanova's Dominic Cheek hit a halfcourt heave that would have been a YouTube classic for the ages, had he just kept his right foot from grazing the sideline.
It was about the only thing the Wildcats did wrong all game.
In a rematch of a fairly competitive 2006 NCAA tournament first-round game in Philadelphia - a game the top-seeded Wildcats struggled to win 58-45 - Villanova (10-1) left no doubts this time around, as they treated the sellout crowd - including many who took the 90-mile drive from the Big East school's campus - to a fair share of power and precision befitting of a top 10 team.
"That was our best defensive game of the year," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Monmouth runs a good offense, and we got ourselves really fired up for it. We were very pleased."
Phil Wait had eight points for the Hawks (4-8), who completed a rare two-game swing vs. Big East teams.
Monmouth, a Northeast Conference program which opened its Multipurpose Activities Center last season and has had little trouble attracting major conference opponents ever since, dropped a 79-56 decision to Rutgers on Saturday night.
"When you play in games like this, against the No. 8 team in the country - and a team from the Big East - a program like ours, from a smaller level, has to play as well as we possibly can to have a chance," Monmouth coach Dave Calloway said. "We didn't do that. You need to play with confidence, and we didn't have any confidence tonight."
The game meant a homecoming for several of Villanova's players. The Wildcats have three on their roster from New Jersey, including Stokes, and three more from New York City, including Fisher.
"This was a great crowd, and it really fired us up," Wright said. "If this was a home game, it would have been a sellout, but no one would have been into it. So, we were happy to go on the road. Once we got the lead, we kept grinding and grinding. But I think we can get a lot better."
Could have fooled the Hawks.
After trailing 2-0 out of the gate, the Wildcats seemingly took over, jumping on Monmouth early and often. They led 33-11 with 4:46 left in the first half, and took a 44-17 lead into halftime, en route to their fifth consecutive victory.
The Hawks, meanwhile, lost their third straight.
"Obviously, we would have liked to have played better," Calloway said. "We've always played a challenging schedule, so this is nothing new to us. We want to play great programs. But we have a ways to go to get better."
Villanova was unselfish most of the game, and the margin allowed Wright to empty his bench early in the second half. The Wildcats held a 46-36 edge in rebounding, a 16-8 edge in assists and had four players in double figures, including Mouphtaou Yarou (14), and Maalik Wayns (11).
Wright was so comfortable in the second half, he let reserve guard Dallas Ouano, a local player from nearby Holmdel, finish the game. Ouano had played just four minutes all season. Against Monmouth, he played five.
It was a different story in 2006 at what was then called the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. Monmouth, a No. 16 seed who needed a win over Hampton in the opening oound game just to get to the first round, made the Wildcats work. Villanova led by 11 points at halftime, but by just seven with six minutes left, before eventually pulling away.
"That was a different team for us. We're going through some growing pains now," said Calloway, whose team is off until Dec. 29, when it meets Harvard. "But playing this kind of team, at home, is a step for us."
The Wildcats now have some time to prepare for their biggest Big Five rival, Temple, on Dec. 30. Villanova has already disposed of Saint Joseph's, Penn and La Salle, and a win over the Owls would give them a clean sweep in their annual city series.
"The guys are still getting a feel for playing together," Wright said. "But we're going to look to Fisher and Stokes as we continue to grow. Our guys are starting to expect that these guys are going to carry us, and lead us where we want to go. We've played in some hostile environments now, and we're getting there. I like where we are right now."