Wildcats secure Big 5 win over Penn


Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

BIG EAST player of the week Jalen Brunson finished with 17 points.

Lauren Gresia

The Wildcats continue their undefeated season as they opened the Big 5 play, defeating University of Pennsylvania in their Wednesday home game at Jake Nevin Field House. Coming back from the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament during Thanksgiving break, the Wildcats came ready to play, securing a 90-62 win over UPenn. BIG EAST Player of the week Jalen Brunson finished with 17 points, followed by Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and Phil Booth with 14 points.

The most exciting aspect about the game was that it was the first time since 1986 that a regular season basketball game has been played in Jake Nevin. Being the first game of the season on the University’s campus, the field house was packed with students and fans loudly cheering on the Wildcats, filling the field house’s seating capacity of only 2,000.

“[Nevin] is a different place to play for anyone, even a home team,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “I could not imagine what the place was like back then.”

The packed stands and close quarters made it very difficult for anyone to hear anything. Coach Wright admitted that they could not hear anything, giving them trouble communicating on defensive plays and running their sets on offensive plays. Even though the team ran basic sets throughout the game because the difficulty in communicating, the Wildcats dominated the game.

“The team focuses on in between the lines, not on the atmosphere,” junior Jalen Brunson said. “We just come to play basketball, that’s it. The bigger the environment, the closer together we play.”

Sophomore Omari Spellman has proven to be an asset to the Wildcats. Spellman tries to “control aspects of the game that [he] can control.” With all that is going on around him during the game, Spellman shared that he is more concerned about defense rather than offense and is focused on playing hard and controlling and moving the ball to his teammates rather than focusing on the ball going through the hoop on offense. Brunson noted that Spellman is a great decision-maker.

“He is not selfish and is great at passing out of the post,” Brunson said. “He’s still learning, but that’s the beauty of it. He’s getting better and is helping all of us.”

The start of the game was a battle for each team, as it was a close score for most of the first half. No. 4 ranked Villanova knew not to take Penn lightly.

“They are a team with depth, so could not let up for a little,” Wright said.

It was not until Spellman gained possession of Eric Paschall’s steal and went for the dunk that the Wildcats picked up the intensity, securing the lead for the rest of the game. The crowd went wild as Spellman flew through the air for his huge dunk.

At halftime, the University honored late former Head Coach Rollie Massimino as they unveiled a banner in his name, held up by alumni and members of his family. Nevin was the gym Massimino made his first shot as coach. His legacy will continue at Villanova, where the current basketball team had the privilege to play on the court he used to coach on, making this a historic game as the team “plays for those who have played before them,” as the back of their practice shirts say.

In order to continue their undefeated streak, Wright said  “we cannot lose respect for anyone.” The Wildcats know that they have to bring their all every game. With a young team, Wright knows they have a lot to work on as the season progresses. Therefore, Wright will continue to get the young players into games so that they can improve and grow as a player while practicing in real game environments.