’Cats prepare for Oklahoma with Holy War victory



Larry Flynn

“The Holy War” hasn’t been much of war recently.

Up until last Tuesday, Villanova had won 47 of 72 games against the Hawks. The Wildcats had won three in a row against their Philadelphia rival, the final two by a combined 58 points. 

This year, however, St. Joes was a deeper, more veteran team who pushed Villanova to the brink on Tuesday. In the end, a patient Wildcats attack led Jay Wright’s team to an 86-72 victory at the Hagan Arena in Philadelphia. 

The junior duo of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins led the Wildcats in scoring with 18 points apiece, while Ryan Arcidiacono added 17 and Bridges chipped in 11.

Despite the proficient perimeter-oriented attack, Villanovan improved upon its weakness over the past few games: feeding the post. Jenkins was the first to get easy points on the block, followed by the poised, smooth moves from Daniel Ochefu. 

Throughout the game, Ochefu was able to assert himself in the paint, and his teammates were looking to pass their senior captain the ball. Ochefu, at times, received multiple post entries in the same possession. 

It was the perimeter play, however, which propelled the Wildcats to large first half lead. Hart capped off a 15-2 run for Villanova with a deep three. During part of this run, Jenkins exploded for 8 points, which included two three-pointers. 

During this run, however, the Wildcats attacked the rim, which allowed the perimeter game to open up for shooters like Jenkins and Hart. 

The Hawks hung around, however, due to sloppy play from the Wildcats over the final 3-4 minutes of the half. St. Joe’s closed the half on a 9-2 run due to four turnovers from Villanova over this spurt. 

To open the second half, St. Joe’s rattled cut the lead to five points. But a poised, balanced Wildcats offensive attack remains unfazed by their dwindling lead and continued to feed the paint and attack the basket. 

Perhaps the play of the day was an emphatic block from Ochefu, which propelled a fast break ending with a Phil Booth slam. 

At the end of the day, however, the elite Wildcats defense limited St. Joe’s offensive attack. Although Hawks star DeAndre Bembry recorded 13 points in the first half, Villanova limited the NBA prospect to four points on 2-9 shooting in the second half.

Villanova’s defense has been stellar thus far this season, forcing teams into turnovers; Wildcat opponents average over 15 turnovers a game against Jay Wright’s aggressive, trapping defense. The Wildcats also have the third-best effective field goal percentage defense (37.2) and fourth-best two-point field goal percentage defense (36.2) in the country.

The Wildcats will travel to Hawaii next to take on No. 6 ranked Oklahoma. This top-10 matchup will be the ultimate test of Villanova’s defense. 

Senior Sooners swingman Buddy Hield is currently averaging 22 points per game on a scorching 50% shooting from the field, 52% shooting from three, and 90% from the free throw line.

Villanova was able to contain Bembry, but Hield will be a whole different story; Hield is much more explosive and athletic. Both Hart and Bridges, with their length and quickness, were able to defend Bembry well and will likely find themselves matched up against Hield for most of the game. 

If there is any team that can shut down the Oklahoma offensive attack, it’s the Wildcats and their lockdown defense. 

The Wildcats will take on the Sooners at 7 p.m. on Monday night. The game can be viewed on Fox Sports 1.