By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Death, taxes, Villanova victories at the Pavilion. Those are the immutable laws of the universe as I know them. On nights when the Wildcats work their way through the student section just before tip-off, they become a different team, and Wednesday night was no exception. With their home baskets looking as big as the ocean, the Cats put on arguably their best shooting display of the season to win their 23rd straight game in the Pavilion, moving to 16-1 overall on the season in the process.
Fans had a good idea what to expect right from the get-go, as Darrun Hilliard drained a three on the game’s first possession, and Villanova sank 3 of their first 4 attempts behind the arc to jump out to an 11-2 lead. The Wildcats never really looked back, or stopped raining triples on Xavier, finishing 15-34 from three as a team, the 15 makes topping their previous season-high of 13 set against Delaware and DePaul. That marksmanship helped Villanova build a lead as great as 23 points in the second half; an 11-0 Musketeers run did manage to cut the deficit to 12, and they would also get within 10, but more timely threes from Villanova ensured this contest never got too close. Even with Gus Johnson on the call for FOX Sports 1, there would be no late-game Gus Magic on this night.
When Coach Jay Wright’s free-flowing, drive-and-kick offensive system is really humming is when guys are willing to be unselfish and pass up a good shot for themselves in favor of a great one for a teammate. Wright felt that was the case against Xavier, saying after the game, “We had great ball movement, guys really made the extra pass, and guys were stepping into their shots with great timing. It’s something we work on, it’s probably the best we’ve done that.”
The embodiment of that philosophy was the play of point guard Ryan Aricidiacono, who not only shot 4-8 from behind the arc for a team-high 18 points, but built on his Big East-best assist-to-turnover ratio with another 6 assists against just a single turnover. It was a fun night overall to be the Neshaminy HS graduate, as the Wildcats also played a video from Big East Media Day during a timeout where opposing players try to spell his last name. It was very funny, going over well with the crowd; just remember there’s no ‘H’.
Dylan Ennis also broke out of a shooting slump that had seen him go 3-23 from behind the arc over his past 6 games, sinking a career-high 5 threes on 8 attempts for 17 points. Following the win, Ennis said, “We don’t think of it as a slump. We just think of it as the next shot, it’s gonna go in if you catch and shoot.” Coach Wright added regarding his junior guard’s success, “He’s much better at shooting off the dribble, and he’s been working on just catch and shoot. His work is paying off and you see that tonight.” Teammate Josh Hart added 15 points, going 3-4 from downtown himself, and collecting a game-high 7 rebounds (5 offensive).
They’ve had a couple big games recently on the interior from Daniel Ochefu, but this is the version of the Wildcats that can really do some damage come late-March. If guys continue to play unselfish basketball along the perimeter and hit open shots, thus ensuring the opposing defense cannot key in on one or two guys, Villanova finds itself in the same class as any team in the country. Even when they’re outside the Pavilion.