Cats must ease up on aggressive play

Posted: February 19, 2010

Jay Wright feels there are lessons to be learned from every basketball game played by Villanova. The Wildcats' coach just prefers the lessons driven home by victories to those resulting from defeats.

The latest lesson came from Monday night's stunning 84-75 defeat at the hands of Connecticut at the Wachovia Center: Aggressive play is good, committing senseless fouls from being too aggressive is bad.

Fouls have burned the third-ranked Wildcats in their two February losses. The Cats committed 30 fouls against the Huskies, who shot 44 free throws and outscored Villanova, 35-16, at the line. In a 103-90 defeat on Feb. 6 at Georgetown, the numbers were 38 Villanova fouls resulting in 50 free throws by the Hoyas and a 39-17 advantage in makes.

"I talked about it with them," Wright said yesterday before practice. "I don't want a loss. I don't want to have to lose to learn. There are a lot of ways you can learn without losing. But I do know they learned a lot from (the Connecticut) game.

"A lot of the young guys that come off the bench, they don't have any fouls when they come in, but they're not thinking there's already six team fouls and it makes a big impact. I think they're starting to understand that."

It's not just the young guys. Junior starters Antonio Pena and Corey Stokes fouled out of the UConn game in 18 and 14 minutes, respectively.

Senior co-captain Reggie Redding said that in the two losses, it seemed the Wildcats' opponents "didn't have to play any offense," just make free throws.

"I think we've got a lot of fouls just proving to each other that we're playing hard, but not necessarily being smart," Redding said. "Now that we've shown to coach Wright that we're going to play hard, now we've got to learn how to play hard and smart."

The Wildcats lead the Big East in fouls committed (22.5 per game) and opposing free throws attempted (28.0) and made (19.6). They are less than a point better than opponents at the line, averaging 20.3 points.

The fouls will determine how the Wildcats fare in their final five regular-season contests, which include road games at Pittsburgh (Sunday), Syracuse and Cincinnati.

"I think the freshmen are seeing that we can't put someone on the free-throw line 44 times and still overcome that," Wright said.

The revolving door. In making every effort to use his depth and play 11 players, Wright has gone to his bench dozens of times in every game, which raises a question of whether the constant shuffling interferes with the team's flow at both ends of the court.

In the Wildcats' last four games, Wright has gone to the bench 81, 55, 51 and 61 times, according to play-by-play sheets. Villanova split with Georgetown and out-substituted the Hoyas, 160-71, in the two games.

"Georgetown plays six or seven guys, and they all get into a rhythm and stay in that rhythm," Wright said. "Maybe you can get them out of rhythm when you've got guys coming in and out. They might not be in as good a rhythm or sometimes it can hurt you. I think you have to look at it over the long haul of the season."

Wright conceded that substituting so much "sometimes" hurts offensive rhythm but added, "We'll go through stretches where we just didn't have good combinations in the game. Then we'll go through stretches with great combinations and make up for it."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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