Photo courtesy of USA Today.
By David Cordova
When you’re the No. 1 team in the nation, every team in the nation will try to take you down. But then again, it’s never easy to stay on top. However, in the case of the Villanova Wildcats, there is a way to thrive when you’re the top dog.
In tonight’s game against Hofstra at the newly-renovated Nassau Coliseum in the Uniondale section of Long Island, the Wildcats showcased just how talented they are by playing a big game in what was considered a home game for them and also a homecoming for their head coach, Jay Wright, who coached the Pride from 1994 to 2001 and led them to American East Conference titles and two NCAA appearances in 2000 and 2001.
“I would never take Villanova to play Hofstra for me. I was lucky that Nassau Coliseum and Ed Mannetta contacted us and they said, ‘Would you play here?’ and it’s a year where we don’t have home court advantage, so I said, ‘Yeah, that’s perfect, could we play Hofstra?” said Wright on how this game was put together.
His current squad, Villanova, came into this game with an 11-0 record, and won all but three of their games by double digits. In tonight’s game, they played the Pride, who came in 7-4, and played some tough games against opponents such as Army, Auburn, Dayton, Monmouth, Rider, Stony Brook and Manhattan. This game was even more special, because it was played literally across the street from their campus.
But this game would not be like any regular one for the Pride, as they ran into a different type of team in the Wildcats.
Villanova 95, Hofstra 71
From the beginning of the game, both teams played with toughness and expected to win. The Pride led early with baskets by graduate student Joel Angus III and junior Kenny Wormley as they were up 7-4, with 17:09 to go.
Then throughout most of the first half, the Wildcats kept swinging and giving out blows, while the Pride countered with the scoring of junior guard Justin Wright-Foreman. But Villanova started to pull away, due to the scoring of redshirt junior swingman Mikal Bridges, as they led 23-15, with 10:30 to go.
Then, before they knew it, the Wildcats were ahead by nineteen, 46-27, with 1:21 left before intermission. Redshirt junior guard Phil Booth ended the first half with a three-pointer to send them into the half with a 52-31 lead.
“We got some lineups out there, we went small a little bit and got more aggressive, and I thought in the second half when Omari and Dhamir went in there together, we played better defensively.”
In the first half, Villanova led in field goal percentage, with 51.4%, while Hofstra led in rebounding and forced 10 turnovers on their counterparts.
The second half would start with the Wildcats in the lead, which they would never relinquish. Although Hofstra showed some fight in the game, it wouldn’t be enough to contain the top team in the nation.
Bridges led Villanova with 20 points and five assists, redshirt freshman Omari Spellman added 19 points and 10 rebounds and Booth added 17 points. In all, the Wildcats had five players in double figures in scoring (redshirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo added 16 points and junior Jalen Brunson added 14 points and seven assists).
For Hofstra, Wright-Foreman led with 25 points on 9-for-18 shooting and senior Rokas Gustys contributed 11 points and eight rebounds in the loss.
Wright was elated about the win, but still felt there was room for improvement on certain things. “We need to get our depth better, we need to get Jermaine Samuels going, we need to get Dhamir Cosby going, we need to get Omari Spellman going. Just games, just get them playing. They do a great job of bringing of it every day and that’s what’s special about these guys. They need these games, that’s what we need, to increase our depth.”
When asked about how he felt about being No. 1 in the country going into Big East play, Wright replied, “You know, I feel good. I feel like we can get a lot better. What I feel good about is I think our guys understand that. This is a good win against a good team and what I think our guys will take from this game will be our sloppiness from this game. When Wright-Foreman goes for 25 in this game, that was not the plan, trust me. They [Hofstra] did a good job in getting him shots and we need to do a good job in executing, so we know we can get better and they know we can get better.”
Although Hofstra lost this game, they did show flashes of what is to come during conference play in the Colonial Athletic Association. This game was be a long one, but it will help to serve them as the tough conference games are ahead.
As for Villanova, this win gives them tremendous confidence going into Big East play, as they will go up against DePaul in Chicago on December 27th. The bulls-eye is on the backs of the defending Big East champions, but if they continue to play just as dominant as they did in this game, they will definitely be tough when the conference tournament starts and also in the Big Dance. But only time will tell.