You’ve heard Jay Wright and his players continuously preach all season that it doesn’t matter who scores or gets the glory, as long as the end result is a Villanova victory. That’s been a winning formula 16 of the 17 times his No. 5 team in the country has taken the court.
It’ s one thing for them to say it. But listen to the words of their latest victims. Xavier came in as the highest scoring team in the Big East, shooting a shade below .500 for the season. They left wondering what had hit them in an 88-75 thumping Wednesday night.
"To be very honest Villanova is a better team right now," said Musketeers’ coach Chris Mack. "Not to put any pressure on Jay, but he’s got a a Final Four quality team.They have juniors and seniors, and they’re terrific.They’re experienced. They’re selfless.I’m proud our team fought and didn’t cash it in, but there aren’t many teams that are going to come into this building and win.They’re pretty good."
Mack’s plan was to shut down ‘Nova big men JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu inside, seeing how they often set the tone for the Wildcats. That part worked, as Pinkston and Ochefu managed just 12 and six points respectively, while pulling down nine combined rebounds.
The problem was that it left guards Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono, along with sixth man Josh Hart free to bomb away from long range, as the Wildcats knocked down 15 of 34 from beyond the arc to foil that strategy.
"Coming into the game JayVaughn and Ochefu were like tag-team wrestlers," explained Mack. "They do a great job playing off one another, so we felt a big key to the game was not allowing those two to do much damage.Maybe we paid too much attention to those guys."
Indeed, Arcidiacono (18 points) Ennis (17) and Hart (15) made them pay, as Villanova’s precision passing game resulted in 24 assists on their 28 field goals.
No wonder Mack had the same kind of sinking feeling as when he was an assistant years ago at Wake Forest.
"It’s pretty rare you feel this way," he admitted. "I was an assistant in the ACC and there were a couple of times we matched up with a team called Duke, where I felt like walking off at halftime.That’s not to say teams can’t knock off Nova, but tonight they played at a really, really high level.When they do that right now they’re just a better team than us."
But a Final Four team?
I don’t see any weaknesses on their team," said Mack, who twice has taken Xavier to the Sweet 16 and has compiled 122 wins in his five-plus years. "We’ve been talking about their offense, but they play really hard on the defensive end.They get after it on the defensive end, they’re selfless and they’re experienced That’s a pretty good combination."
Good enough already to make Villanova fifth best throughout the land—and climbing.
Even Jay Wright and the rest of his selfless but never satisfied team, whichheads to the Palestra Saturday to play Penn with a chance to wrap up the Big Five title, have to be happy with that.