’Cats seek remption against Georgetown on Saturday



Frank Scicchitano

Photo Courtesy of villanova.com

“We’ve got to go back to work to keep getting better. There’s a lot of time, it’s still early enough in the season.”

That was Head Coach Jay Wright’s message to the media following Villanova’s 20-point defeat at the hands of Georgetown in the teams’ meeting earlier this season.

Yes, the Hoyas had the hot  hand that night at the Verizon Center in Washington, connecting on 23 of 45 field goal attempts and hitting an even 50 percent (6-of-12) from beyond the arc, but Villanova’s play was nowhere near the level fans have come to expect out of this year’s team.

The Wildcats struggled to generate offense in the first half and had difficulty moving the ball around their opponent’s swarming defense.  As a result, they suffered their first loss to Georgetown since the 2011-12 season.

On Sunday, the ’Cats will host their conference rival at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.  The Hoyas have not won a matchup against Villanova in this arena since February of 2009, and senior guard Darrun Hilliard will certainly do his part to keep this streak alive.

Hilliard is averaging 17.5 points per game in his last nine appearances on the Wildcats’ alternate home court, and fellow senior JayVaughn Pinkston has also had some shining moments in downtown Philadelphia throughout his Villanova career as well.  

The forward posted a double-double in his last game at the Wells Fargo Center, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the Wildcats’ comeback victory over Syracuse in December.  

Villanova has won eight of its last 10 games in the NBA arena and always delivers a quality performance to a crowd that is more than twice the capacity of a sold-out game at the Pavilion on campus.

The struggles for the Wildcats’ offense in the first game between these teams stemmed from an uncharacteristic lack of passing.  They tallied just eight assists, which was well below their season average of 16.2 per game.

Georgetown did an effective job clogging passing lanes and pressuring the ball, forcing 17 turnovers and holding Villanova to just 34 percent shooting.

Freshman forward Isaac Copeland had a breakout performance for the Hoyas’, joining senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera as the team’s leading scorers with 17 points.  

Copeland was 5-6 from the field and earned the rest of his points at the free throw line where he was 7-8.  At 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he logged 25 minutes off the bench and was able to dominate Villanova’s interior defense.

The inside pair for the Wildcats, comprised of Pinkston and junior forward Daniel Ochefu, has shown flashes of brilliance this season but has also been vulnerable at times.  

Ochefu is nearly averaging a double-double this season, scoring 10 points per game and pulling down 8.4 rebounds, which is the third-highest average in the Big East.  

Pinkston, on the other hand, has seen a decrease in his scoring average but still provides an irreplaceable veteran presence down low.

 Against the Hoyas, both big men had below-average performances.  Pinkston had six turnovers and missed his only two field goal attempts, scoring all six of his points on free throws.

Ochefu was in foul trouble throughout the game, playing just 20 minutes and giving Georgetown plenty of opportunities to attack the Wildcats inside.  

If the ’Cats successfully improve their interior defense this time around, they will still need to be aware of the Hoya’s talented backcourt, led by Smith-Rivera and senior guard Jabril Trawick.  

Smith-Rivera, this season’s Preseason Big East Player of the Year, is fifth in the conference in scoring entering the week at 15.2 points per game.  

Trawick, a Philadelphia native, gave Villanova a fit in January by recording four of Georgetown’s 10 steals.  The veteran sidekick to Smith-Rivera is also the team’s leading 3-point shooter, connecting on 46 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. 

Team defense is arguably the strong point for the Wildcats, who have allowed just 60.6 points per game heading into this week of play, good for second in the conference.  If they play disciplined and aggressive on this end of the floor, they should be able to shut down the Hoyas’ scoring attack.

The regular season is about three-quarters of the way over, and Villanova is still very much in contention for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament in March.  A victory on Saturday will put the ’Cats in prime position in the Big East standings and will be a nice addition to their tournament résumé.  

Tipoff at the Wells Fargo Center is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on FOX.