Villanova is a team that prides itself on giving a solid defensive effort for the entire game. They call it Villanova basketball. After one half of basketball Villanova Coach Jay Wright saw Louisville successfully operate against the defense, and knew it had to improve. It was a tale of two halves at the #7 Wildcats got stops in the second half to earn an 88 – 74 win over #18 Louisville at the Wells Fargo Center.
“They sliced us in the first half, it was a joke,” said Wright about the Louisville offense. “To score 41 points, that’s ridiculous. I thought we did a real good job defensively in the second half. In the first half they shot 52%, and in the second half they shot 38%, and I thought that was the key. Our half court defense in the second half was strong.”
Villanova led 42 – 41 at halftime. Louisville made 16 of 31 field goal attempt and nailed eight 3-Point shots, three each from Guard Preston Knowles and Forward Chris Smith. Villanova gained the lead by rebounding the ball and made 9 of 9 free throws compared to Louisville making 1 of 1. Villanova took the ball to the basket, Louisville shot jump shots is how Louisville Coach Rick Pitino accurately explained the differential. Villanova made five of eight 3-Pointers. They were matching baskets.
In the second half with the score tied at 44 Villanova went on a 15 – 6 run to take a 59 – 50 lead with 14:28 to play. The Wildcats held the lead. Louisville pulled to within 69 – 63 at the 6:24 mark. The Villanova put the game away behind a 12 – 2 run to take their largest lead at 81 – 65 with 3:32 on the clock. The key sequence was at the beginning of the run. Sophomre Center MouphtaouYarou made a three-point play to start the run. After a Louisville miss, Sophomre Guard Maalik Wayns took the ball to the basket for a layup. That was followed by a turnover that Senior Guard Corey Fischer converted into a layup putting Villanova ahead 76 – 63.
“We had that run when we got stops, fast break, stop, break, turnover, fast break,” said Wright about the run that gave Villanova control of the game. “That gave us a lead at the five-minute mark that we could milk to the end. There was a spurt there in the middle when we got three turnovers and that was important.”
Louisville made 4 of 10 three-pointers in the half, and just 12 of 31 from the field. Villanova made 17 of 28 shots.
With the defense playing more to Wright’s liking, the offense began flow. Villanova scored 24 points off 16 Louisville turnovers for the game. Villanova exhibited balance on offense as they got inside production out-scoring Louisville 42 – 24 in Points in the Paint. Yarou scored a career-high 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
“We did have balance,” said Wright. “That’s unusual for us that we had an inside game. Mouph (Yarou) was just awesome. He was great on the boards and scoring inside, but when you play a team like that, that shoots a lot of threes, it’s tough for a big guy to play because he is always out on the perimeter. He did a great job in the second half on his perimeter defense.”
Senior Guard Corey Stokes led Villanova with a team high 23 points despite missing practice for two days with a pulled left hamstring. He would not allow the injury to deter him.
“I got treatment, and played through it,” said Stokes. “We play through stuff like that. I am one of the leaders on this team, so I can’t think about that. I go out there and help lead the team.”
“I was thinking about it and I was watching it,” his coach countered.
Fischer scored 17 points and registered a career-high 8 rebounds. Wayns had 15 points, 7 assists, and 3 steals. Villanova had 41 total rebounds compared to 25 for Louisville. Guard Preston Knowles scored a game-high 24 points for the Cardinals. Forward Chris Smith scored 18 points and Guard Peyton Siva added 14 points and 7 assists.
Villanova improves to 15 – 1 for the season and 4 – 0 in the Big East, and prepare for a non-league game against Maryland on January 15. Louisville is 13 – 3, 2 – 1 in conference. Jay Wright knows the team needs to get home court wins because Big East road wins are hard to get.
“Protecting home court in this league is very, very important,” Wright said. “It doesn’t matter who you play on the road in the Big East because you are going to play a great team in a tough atmosphere. This game was big for us.”
Key Run of the Game
Louisville battled back to get to within 6 at 69 – 63 with 6:24 remaining in the game. Villanova answered by going on a 12 – 2 run to take an 81 – 65 lead with 3:32 on the clock. The key sequence was at the beginning of the run. Yarou made a three-point play to start the run. After a Louisville miss, Wayns took the ball to the basket for a layup. That was followed by a turnover that Fischer converted into a layup putting Villanova ahead 76 – 63. Following two Chris Smith free throws, Wayns and Yarou finished the run with baskets.
Key Stat of the Game
In the second half Louisville shot 38.7% (12 – 31), and made 4 of 10 from beyond the arc. Villanova scored 24 points off 16 Louisville turnovers.
Key Players in the Game
For Villanova – Mouphtaou Yarou who scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Yarou made 8 of 12 field goal attempts. He had 5 offensive and 6 defensive rebounds.
For Louisville – Guard Preston Knowles who scored a game-high 24 points making 9 of 17 field goal attempts and 6 of 10 from distance. Knowles made 3 steals.
Point Where the Game Was Decided
At the 4:13 mark in the second half Villanova got the ball inside to Yarou who turned and dunked the ball for an 80 – 65 lead. Louisville would get no closer than 12 from that time.
Thoughts and Musings
Villanova is ranked number 7 in the nation. Coach Jay Wright is starting to get a better read on this team. He was not sure earlier if his Wildcats deserved being ranked that high, but he is beginning to believe.
“We see a lot of room for improvement, but our sophomores are getting better,” said Wright. “Mouph (Yarou) is getting better defensively, and that’s helping us. We are getting better.”
The key is to play Villanova basketball, defend and rebound. The Wildcats are doing that and the seniors are leading the way.
Written By: Glenn Papazian