After 36-point win, Wright says ’Nova ‘needs a lot of work’
PHILADELPHIA » Go ahead, attack the basket. Villanova dares you.
On a night when the fifth- ranked Wildcats scored more points than they have in nearly 15 years, much of the focus was on defense following Tuesday’s 113-77 destruction of Nicholls at the Wells Fargo Center.
That’s what happens when you set a program record for blocked shots with 13, force 17 turnovers and harass the opposition into 38.6 percent shooting from the field. And the scary thing is the Wildcats are not close to being where they want to be on the defensive end.
“We have to get better with our technique,” junior swingman Mikal Bridges said. “Technique is a big thing with us and we have a whole year to get better at it.”
Jay Wright sentiment.
“We’re a team that needs a lot of work,” the Villanova coach said. “This is a young team for us. Usually we have more juniors and seniors. We have no seniors and we’re playing a lot of freshmen so we have a lot of work to do, but I think we have the potential to be a good defensive team and I think you saw some of that tonight. It was more athleticism than it was defensive technique.”
That technique will come, Wright and his staff will make sure of that. Villanova’s athleticism was enough to hold a Nicholls team to 35 fewer points than it scored in its opener and only a late surge in the second half made the shooting percentages respectable.
Leading that defensive charge for the Wildcats (20) were Bridges and redshirt freshman Omari Spellman. They blocked four shots apiece, seconded that both career highs, and teamed up on an eight-second sequence in the first half that set the defensive tone for the evening.
Bridges blocked a jumper by Roddy Peters, who grabbed the rebound and tried again, only to be rejected by Bridges a second time. Tevon Saddler pulled down the rebound only to have his put-back attempt sent away by Spellman.
“I remember that,” Bridges said. “We didn’t let up. They got the offensive rebound, nobody stopped and (Spellman) got another block. There was a lot of good energy and we were all fired up off of that and that’s what we should be fired up over, defensive things, not offensive.”
There was a lot to be excited about on the offensive end, too. The 113 points were the most the Wildcats scored in a game at the Wells Fargo Center and the most since they put up 114 on Redland Nov. 22, 2003.
Bridges led the way with a career-high 23 points and was 7-for-11 from the field, which included a 4-for-7 night from three-point land. Yet he was more proud of the four blocks, five steals and four assists he had than the points.
“I don’t try to think about it,” Bridges said. “I just go out there and play as hard as I can and defend. That’s what I’ve been doing since a got here … I take pride in defending, getting into passing lanes, pressuring people, things like that. As coach says, if you defend and rebound, good things happen to you.”
Defense translated into points on the offensive end for the Wildcats. Everyone got in on the action. Once again Donte DiVincenzo was a spark off the bench, shooting 6-for-8 overall, 2-for-3 from beyond the arc and finishing with 20 points. He’s averaging 16.5 points, which means he has picked up where he left off. The 6-5 sophomore guard averaged 18 points a game in the NCAA tournament last year.
“A lot of it was just confidence from the older guys that we had. Josh (Hart), Kris (Jenkins), and Darrell (Reynolds),” DiVincenzo said. “They did an amazing job building me up, especially when I was down and feeling upset about some performances. They brought me back up and with those three leaders being gone and jumping from year one to year two, my leadership roll has been expanding. We have a lot of weapons on this team and a lot of athletic guys so the biggest change would be taking that leadership role.”
Jalen Brunson (17 points), Phil Booth (12), Eric Paschall (11) and Collin Gillespie (10) also reached double figures. Spellman had nine points and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree added eight. Those were career highs for Gillespie and CosbyRoundtree, who are both freshmen.
As a team, Villanova connected on 57.5 percent of its attempts from the field, the second best shooting day the Wildcats have had at the Wells Fargo Center. And it all started on the defensive end.
“We had great energy and we almost did it for 40 minutes,” Wright said. “It’s hard to do it for 40 minutes at this point of the season, but we did a pretty good job.”
*** NOTES » The Wildcats have won eight straight at the Wells Fargo Center, to tie their longest winning streak in the building. Villanova has won 16 of 17 and 19 of 21 in South Philly since the start of the 2012-13 season. … Villanova topped the century mark for the 65th time in program history and the 15th time under Wright. … Up next for the Wildcats is a doubleheader Friday night at the PPL Center. The women take on Lehigh in the opener at 5 p.m. The men face Lafayette, coached by former Villanova great, Fran O’Hanlon, in the nightcap at 8.
For the second straight game, Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo was a force Tuesday night, scoring 20 points in a win over Nicholls at Wells Fargo Center.