Feb. 1, 2009
There are a multitude of terms for it. Some liken it to a hangover. Others prefer to call it a letdown. But whatever you choose to call it, the opportunity to perhaps ease off the gas pedal the next time out after a huge victory is ever present in athletics.
Fresh from a pulsating 67-57 victory over the nation's No. 3 team, Pittsburgh, before a crowd of 17,449 in the final college basketball game at the Pavilion, Villanova arrived at the Pavilion on Sunday afternoon more than aware of what trap doors were on the horizon. At the opposite end of the floor was a Cincinnati squad that had vanquished Georgetown on the same night the `Cats had taken care of the Panthers. The Bearcats were 14-7, 4-4 in the BIG EAST and eager to make their own kind of statement.
"We were concerned about that," stated Jay Wright.
For the game's first 20 minutes, that anxiety manifested itself as the Bearcats built a 26-19 lead after a conventional 3-point play from Yancy Gates with 5:08 remaining in the first half. However, sophomore guard Corey Fisher made a steal and went in ahead of the field for a layup, the Wildcats' first easy points of the afternoon.
"That was a big play by Fish," stated Wright. "We were struggling to score points and were out of synch offensively. That seemed to get us going."
Villanova closed out the half on a 11-4 run to take a 30-29 advantage into the locker room. It appeared the contest would be a typical down to the wire BIG EAST affair.
Yet the `Cats defense would allow nothing of the sort. Cincinnati was hounded to distraction, dropping in just 6-of-33 (.182) from the field after intermission. Meanwhile, the Wildcats got into an offensive flow, sinking 15-of-27 from the field (.556) to pull away to a 71-50.
"This was a very good game for us," stated Wright. "I feel like we are getting better. I think Cincinnati is playing as well as anyone in this league and they caused us big problems in the first half. We had a tough time dealing with their ball screens in the first half. They were just very well-prepared. (UC coach) Mick (Cronin) knew exactly what they wanted to do and they did it.
"Just for us to come out and defend like that was great. Fish was great defensively - he guarded (Deonta) Vaughn a lot as did Scottie Reynolds. Those two did a great job."
In the meeting between these two teams a year ago at Fifth Third Arena, Vaughn helped lead his team to a 69-66 victory with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor. In this encounter, though, the Wildcats never let him get into an offensive flow. He was 3-of-14 from the field on the day, including 2-of-9 from outside the 3-point arc, and finished with eight points. Only one Bearcat - Alvin Mitchell - ended the day in double figures (15 points). "What I was really happy about was that we kept our focus in the second half," stated Wright. "We really defended. That comes from the seniors."
When Wright and the coaches entered the locker room at halftime, senior forward Dante Cunningham was at the whiteboard.
"When I walked in he was there showing the team the pick and rolls that we were getting killed on," noted Wright.
Wright spoke of the team's one-game-at-a-time mantra in the press conference following Wednesday night's win at the Spectrum. Keeping his squad on an emotional even keel is vital in this most competitive of BIG EAST seasons.
"We're only 5-3 in the BIG EAST so I've been more concerned about, after losses, of not being down," he explained. "We really hadn't had a big win like that against Pitt. So, for the first time, we had to tackle something different.
"In this league, you just have to go one game at a time. You have to worry about how that last game affects you."
"That's something I am really proud of these guys for," stated Wright. "(Cincinnati) is great on the glass and we did a good job."
In the end, though, it was the defense that helped Villanova avoid any slipup and earn its 25th consecutive win at the Pavilion.
"Defense is a team game even more than offense is," Wright stated. "You just can't have one guy break you down. Last year we were young. We would have four guys out there busting their butts. But one guy breaks down and that's when you give up points. It happened to us earlier this year too.
"The development of Fish, Corey Stokes and Antonio (Pena) is really making a difference. Because now we have five guys on the floor who are, most times, playing off each other, reading each other. We don't have those breakdowns. The three sophomores are making the difference." And because of that and a sound mindset, Villanova earned its 17th overall victory and improved to 5-3 in the BIG East.
- MIKE SHERIDAN