Dec. 22, 2011
VILLANOVA, Pa. - With its on-court leader battling a virus, Villanova (7-5 overall, 0-0 BIG EAST) used an assortment of weapons to defeat American 73-52 in the Wildcats final non-conference game of the regular season on Thursday evening at the Pavilion.
"We've still got a ways to go but we're getting better," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
The night began with the `Cats leading scorer, junior guard Maalik Wayns, on the bench as he fought to overcome a flu-like virus that had kept him off the court during Wednesday's practice. Freshman Ty Johnson started in his place but it was Wayns' entrance into the contest in the first half that allowed Villanova to establish a comfortable lead.
"We need Maalik out there," stated Wright. "He's our engine and makes us go. We weren't sure what he would be able to give us tonight because of the virus."
Villanova scored the game's first six points before American (8-5 overall, 0-0 Patriot League) went on a 13-5 run over the next three minutes to grab its first lead of the night. JayVaughn Pinkston had four early points for the Wildcats.
VU used a strong spurt over the final ten minutes of the half to take a 38-29 lead into halftime. Wayns gave the `Cats a lift with six points on athletic drives to the basket. All nine Wildcats who saw action in the first half scored led by Wayns, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard with six points apiece.
Charles Hinkle led the Eagles with 13 points in the first 20 minutes.
American scored the first four points of the second half to narrow the deficit to 38-33 with 17:58 to play in the second half. The `Cats did not record their first point of the second half until Wayns drained a pair of free throws with 16:05 left. Johnson then dropped in a 12-foot jumper to re-establish a nine point lead with 15:44 on the clock in the second.
The Villanova defense anchored what became a 12-0 run over the next five minutes before a Blake Jolivette 3-point field goal cut the lead to 50-36 with 11:18 to play in the second period. The margin never dipped below double digits after that as the `Cats limited the Eagles to 23 second half points.
"We've been burned by some perimeter players this year," noted Wright. "But I thought we did a good job on Hinkle, especially in the second half. We tried to keep a fresh body on him at all times and JayVaughn and Taj (James Bell) were good against him. He's a dangerous guy if he gets going."
Hinkle finished with 17 points but was just 6-of-15 from the floor. On the night VU limited American to 20-of-58 shooting (.345) from the field.
At the offensive end, the Wildcats had 16 assists with a season-low five turnovers. Wayns delivered nine assists and Johnson contributed five more. The Wildcats also owned a 13-0 edge in fast break points.
Wayns and Pinkston shared high scoring honors for VU with 12 points each. Junior Dominic Cheek added 10 points and all 10 Villanova players who saw action put points on the scoreboard.
"I think we're getting there," stated Wayns, who said the virus left him feeling mostly drained. "Guys are embracing their roles. It's hard to play when you are unsure of yourself and I think we're starting to get a feel for how we play together."
Wright echoed those sentiments.
"Inconsistent is the perfect word to describe how we have played," stated Wright. "It's part of our growing pains and we have to get better as fast as we can. Now we'll see what we can do against the big boys in the Big East.
"Every year is different. Some of our teams have done really well in the non-conference part of the schedule and not as well in the Big East. We have been inconsistent in the non-conference part of our schedule but I'm hoping with our size we may have better luck with some of the matchups in our conference. At the same time, I know these young guys have not seen what it's like at West Virginia or Marquette or Syracuse or Connecticut. We have to go through that together and improve as quickly as we can."
Villanova visits West Virginia to open its 18-game BIG EAST schedule on Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum (WPHL This TV/ESPN 950 Radio) at 7:00 p.m.
Notes: Villanova saltued more than 50 of its men's basketball alumni in a ceremony at halftime. Also honored was former coach Jack Kraft (1961-73), who celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first victory as Wildcats coach this month... Freshmen accounted for 40 of VU's 73 points and also added 17 rebounds.