They Were on Fire, and Then...
There were times in the first half when it appeared, Big 5 game/rivalry or not, Villanova was going to sweep Penn right out of the Pavilion. The 'Cats opened with a 12-4 run in the game's first five minutes on their way to a 73-65 win over their Big 5 rival. The score understated the Wildcats' domination...
The teams were on track for a 32 possession half and a 64 possession game...with a score of 96-32 Villanova. Numbers too good to be sustained...and the skeptics were not disappointed. Not before Villanova doubled the score on Penn, 32-16 near the 3:00 mark of the first half. The Wildcats took a solid 18 point lead, 38-20, into the intermission.
"I thought it was important (with Maalik Wayns out with two first half fouls) that we did not let him (Penn point guard Zack Rosen) get started..." Coach Wright asserted in the post game press conference, "...because once he gets going, it's really tough to stop him..." This served as the explanation for Penn's point guard Zack Rosen's second half explosion. Going into the half with six points on 2-4 (0-1, 2-3) from the floor and 2-2 from the line, Penn's preseason favorite to take Player of the Year honors in the Big 5 used the time to gather himself, and returned to the floor to record 17 more points as he engineered the Quakers' second half rush to close the gap. Though they fell short, Penn whittled a deficit that bulged to 18 early in the half down to four with 0:15 left to play. Rosen's three pointer (one of seven they managed to convert after shooting 0-7 in the first half) brought the Quakers to 65-69, but they could get no closer as the young Wildcats hit their free throws to push the margin back out to eight.
The bloggers over at VUHoops.com focus on Villanova's nine game winning streak over Penn and how the squad converted at the line to bring home the win in their piece, "9 Straight for Cats Over Quakers". The Nova Blog noted Penn's second half rally in "Villanova Holds Off Penn's..." and how the Wildcats preserved the win. The University site posted the AP wire story and the official boxscore. The breakdown by halves
Half Time Adjustments
The pace was dictated by Villanova and remained consistent through both halves. Penn's marked, half-over-half improvement on offense (or Villanova's defensive lapse if you wish) was graphic and led by the turnaround on their outside shooting. The Wildcats kept their points per possession rate north of one (1.048 PPP) on the strength of their offensive rebounding, dramatic drop in turnovers and the large number of times they got to the line. From Zack Rosen's post game comments, "...I don't know where our confidence was...we want to go out and play with anybody, no matter who it is...and do what we do. I think in the second half we did what we did..." Indeed, the Quakers hit 7-13 from beyond the arc, One of the minor surprises is how Penn, which racked up a staggering 27 personal fouls managed to keep their entire rotation eligible for play. Three Quakers, Rosen, forward Henry Brooks and forward/center Cameron Gunter picked up four fouls apiece while four others had three fouls apiece. Five of Penn's 18 rostered players are 6-8 and taller. They struggled to block out Mouphtao Yarou, sending the junior forward to the line for 12 free throw attempts.
Notes & Observations
1. About Villanova's defense -- "We gotta learn we have to play 40 minutes...it's hard (to maintain defensive intensity), but good teams do that...when you're young...when you get a lead...the place you rest is on defense. When you're a veteran...and you're going to rest, you do it on offense" -- Coach Jay Wright
2. Maalik Wayns picked up his second foul with nine minutes left in the first half and sat for the balance of the period. He took no shots in the first half, dished two dimes, racked up a steal and committed two turnovers before retiring to the bench. Urged at the half to shoot more, the junior's line at the finish was 11 points on 2-4 (1-2 from beyond the arc, 1-2 inside) shooting from the field and 6-6 at the line.
3. With Wayns on the bench and Rosen on the loose, the staff with limited options turned to freshmen Ty Johnson and Achraf Yacoubou to pick up Wayns' minutes and they did not disappoint. Johnson logged 15 minutes as he manned the point, recording six points while providing three assists to two turnovers. The freshman grabbed a rebound and was credited with a steal. Yacoubou was a bit less productive offensively, but he did dish two dimes while committing one turnover in an 18 minute stint.
4. Yarou racked up a double-double, 21 points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes of action. The Quakers did not have a player, or combination of players who could contain Yarou.
5. With the win, the latest in a streak of nine (as reported by VUHoops.com), Villanova now holds a 39-14 edge over Penn in their Big 5 series. This is the least competitive of the head-to-head series within the Big 5.
The staff used an eight man rotation against Penn, the shallowest this season, as junior forward/center Maurice Sutton dislocated his right thumb in practice this week. He is expected to miss between two and three weeks. Do not look for him before the Big East season. Freshman forward Markus Kennedy collided with JayVaughn Pinkston in practice and sustained a shoulder injury. Coach Wright hopes he will be ready Tuesday for the Missouri game in Madison Square Garden.