In the Arena: Wildcats Sink Mutinous Pirates

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

DSC_0258Villanova 80, Seton Hall 54 – Box Score

Seton Hall has menaced Villanova in recent history, having knocked Jay Wright’s club out early in last year’s Big East tournament, then defeating the Wildcats in overtime to serve them their first loss of this season. In those previous two meetings against the Pirates, Villanova shot just 9-43 from behind the arc, well below average for the best three-point shooting team in the Big East. Monday night, that all changed, as the Wildcats did an excellent job sharing the ball and finding open teammates to splash home 12 of their 27 triples on the evening. As well as Villanova looked on the evening, it certainly helped that this Seton Hall club is currently tearing itself apart at the seams.

There was a time when these Pirates were 12-2, coming off consecutive victories against ranked opponents, and looking like one of the best stories in the Big East. Now, the team has lost 5 straight and 8 of its last 10 games amid drama worthy of the E! Channel. Sophomore guard Jaren Siva recently left the team, Isaiah Whitehead and Sterling Gibbs were purportedly fighting in the locker room, and rumors were flying about racial tension, seniors and freshmen going at it, you name it. All of those frustrations came to the forefront when late in the game, Gibbs delivered a classless and blatant cheap shot to the head of Ryan Arcidiacono while the Villanova point guard was on the ground.

Gibbs was immediately ejected from the game, while ironically, the ensuing free throws put Arch over the threshold to join Villanova’s 1,000 point club.

Still, no one should let that late incident mar what was really a beautiful game from the Wildcats. Coming off a 31-point effort and game-winning shot against Butler, Darrun Hilliard again led the team with 18 points. Really though, it was the overall balance from everyone who stepped on the court that carried the day for Villanova. The team consistently made the extra pass and passed up a good shot for a great one, displaying the type of unselfish play that has become the hallmark of the team. The Wildcats assisted on a remarkable 11 of their 12 made field goals in the first half, and 22 of 26 on the game.

“I think we have really exceptional character in our guys,” Coach Jay Wright stated after the game. “I think our guys are smart, they understand that the best chance of us being the best team we can be is if we’re hard to prepare for, we have balance.”

Villanova truly attacked the Pirates from all angles. Daniel Ochefu shot a perfect 5-5 for 11 points and 12 rebounds. Kris Jenkins had just 6 points, but all 6 came during two straight crucial possessions after Seton Hall had cut the lead to just 10 in the second half. Even someone like Josh Hart, who only hit 1 of 9 shots on the night, had as large an impact on the outcome as anyone. Hart recorded 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks, while arguably bringing more energy than anyone on the court. Coach Wright received contributions from his entire roster, something he was counting on in the middle of a difficult stretch.

“3 games in 6 days,” Wright commented post-game. “Whether they’re home or away doesn’t matter. It’s mentally grinding at this time of the year.”

The team didn’t even practice in between this contest and the Butler victory. It’s a great sign that the Wildcats are able to look so sharp under these types of situations; it would presumably be great preparation for a group that’s likely going to find itself under similar circumstances in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Now sitting at 24-2, this Villanova squad now has the best record after 26 games in program history. Whether it’s a difficult part of the schedule or a dirty cheap shot from a frustrated opponent, the Wildcats look prepared for whatever is thrown their way.

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