Villanova wins another tough one on road

ASSOCIATED PRESS Villanova's JayVaughn Pinkston dunks on Mikael Hopkins.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Villanova's JayVaughn Pinkston dunks on Mikael Hopkins.
Posted: January 29, 2014

WASHINGTON - It was the end of a 4-day, NBA-style road trip played in NBA arenas against traditional Big East powers. And, after 2 1/2 minutes in a late-night game at the Verizon Center, Villanova found itself down 8-0 against Georgetown.

If there was ever a time for this group to start thinking about the bus and the early-morning trip back to campus, it was that moment. Jay Wright calmly called a timeout and sent his players back on to the floor, 2 days after they had beaten Marquette in overtime and flown from Milwaukee straight to Washington, where they camped out at the JW Marriott awaiting tipoff.

Villanova scored 19 of the next 23 points. There would be no more free possessions for the Hoyas like their first, when they ran 34 seconds off the shot clock before Nate Lubick dropped in a floater.

The game's pattern had been set. There would be punches thrown and received, counterpunches delivered and absorbed.

When the accounting was done at 11:15 p.m., Villanova had delivered just a little bit more and won, 65-60. Every time Villanova (18-2, 7-1 Big East) had to make a shot or a stop to hold the Hoyas off, it made it.

"That was old-school Big East, man,'' Wright said. "It was tough, it was physical. I thought Georgetown's defense was great . . . I thought they played great defense tonight. I thought we did too.''

As he did last season and has done so often this season, it was senior James Bell who nailed the biggest shot at the most critical moment, a three with 3 1/2 minutes left that gave the 'Cats just enough breathing space to exhale.

Bell (16 points) was starting to heat up with a pair of treys before he got his fourth foul with 9:22 left. He was back for the finish when it mattered.

"Early in the game, I was cold, but you've got to keep shooting,'' Bell said.

He shot every one with confidence.

"I feel like all of them are going in,'' Bell said.

Villanova's defense covered so much of the halfcourt after that early Hoyas lead that it really looked like it had six players chasing the ball. They were running the Hoyas out of their comfort zone into a defensive abyss. Openings were fleeting, passes challenged, dribbles an affront.

Georgetown (11-9, 3-6) was making more than half its shots. Its problem was that so many possessions ended without a shot. Villanova started creating turnovers on every part of the court, so many so fast that the Hoyas must have felt dizzy. By halftime, the Hoyas had 13 turns so, even though they were shooting 55 percent, it really did not matter.

Villanova controlled the pace of play, got to the free-throw line, made enough threes and, typically, got absolutely everybody involved in its equal-opportunity offense and led 35-30 at the break, with the five starters scoring between six and eight points.

The Hoyas played without big man Joshua Smith (academically ineligible), but got Jabril Trawick (Abington Friends) back after he was out with a broken jaw.

What the Hoyas do have is a dynamic guard line of D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks. They came in averaging nearly 34 points between them, accounting for 47 percent of the Georgetown offense. Starks had 20 against the 'Cats, but Smith-Rivera had just eight.

What Villanova had was a plan that is an all-out attack at both ends of the court, players coming in waves from everywhere, including the bench.

The 'Cats' halftime advantage quickly disappeared as the start of the second half resembled the first. Even though Georgetown had lost four straight and was undermanned, there would be no walkovers.

"Their length and physicality caused turnovers,'' Wright said. "No one else has done it like that to us. I thought down the stretch we played really good defense. Sometimes, you've got to win that way.''

The Big East's best field-goal defense was making life quite difficult for Villanova's offense, which had vaulted all the way up to 10th nationally in efficiency.

Old Big East, new Big East, this game is rarely won easily.

A week after the Creighton volcano hit town, Villanova had its fifth league road win in five tries.

'Nova got separation because it got to the foul line and Georgetown did not. You know John Thompson III was just thrilled that the visitors shot 28 free throws to his team's nine.

Wildcats big man Daniel Ochefu, who now plays a totally relaxed game on offense, is gaining more confidence by the possession. He finished with 12 points and did not miss a shot.

"I'm a lot more confident,'' Ochefu said.

The five 'Nova starters and Tony Chennault scored all the points as Wright went much more with his veterans in a game where points were at a premium. The 'Cats had been averaging 81.3 points. This was not that kind of game. It was the kind of game that this Villanova team can win with defense and toughness. And did.

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