Wildcats top rival Quakers to capture another Big 5 Title

Pat Ralph

Behind a strong performance from junior center Daniel Ochefu, the No. 4 ranked Wildcats prevailed over Penn, 62-47, in front of a sellout crowd at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia this past Saturday night. 

The win gave the Wildcats their second straight Big 5 title, the first time Villanova has captured the title outright in consecutive seasons since the 2005-06 and 2006-07 campaigns. 

Ochefu continued his third-year brilliance on Saturday night, as he led the way for the Wildcats with a double-double consisting of a season high 21 points, on 8-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds. Ochefu topped his 19-point putout in the overtime loss at Seton Hall earlier this month. 

Averaging career-highs across the board this season due to his improved play on both sides of the court, Ochefu once again showed the Wildcats and their fans how he can be the X-factor for this team going forward.

Fortunately for Villanova, Ochefu was not the only Wildcat to come up big in the win. Junior guard Dylan Ennis, second on the team in scoring this season, also finished in double figures with 10 points of his own in the contest. Ennis also led the team with five assists and four steals in the victory.

Saturday night’s win was far from the Wildcats’ best performance this season, but they were able to find a way to win despite its struggles. The ’Cats struggled all night from three, shooting 33 percent (6-of-18) from beyond the arc. 

Once again, the Wildcats started off the contest shooting a barrage of threes and, unlike against Xavier, they only connected on a few of their attempts from long range.

The Wildcats missed 10 of 14 three-pointers and shot only 30 percent from the field in the first half. As a result, a much superior Villanova squad led Penn by only two at the intermission. 

The Wildcats’ offense woke up in the second half, outscoring Penn 39-26 and shooting a much more impressive 56 percent from the field. 

More importantly, the ’Cats refocused their game-plan after intermission to getting the ball more inside instead of just shooting outside shots. 

“We started trying to run some sets to get the ball inside to Daniel in the second half,” Head Coach Jay Wright explained after the win. “We were trying in the first half but just weren’t getting it inside.”

Thanks to the Wildcats’ defense, the Quakers were unable to get going from three-point land as Penn shot an 23 percent (3-of-13) from downtown. Both teams were reasonable from the field overall in the game, as the Wildcats and Quakers each shot 41 percent on the night. 

The only problem Villanova’s defense could not solve was freshman guard Antonio Woods, who scored a career-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting off the bench. In addition, Woods led the Quakers in assists with three, while freshman forward Mike Auger led Penn with nine rebounds. 

Ultimately, the Wildcats’ defense and size wore down Penn and helped Villanova pull away from the Quakers. 

The Wildcats’ ability to draw twice as many fouls as Penn created more scoring opportunities for Villanova in the contest, yet the ’Cats only made half of their free throw attempts on the night. 

Free throw shooting has been a bit of an issue for Villanova this season and will come back to haunt the Wildcats if not improved before March rolls around. 

Villanova’s aggressive and quick full-court pressure forced Penn into 17 turnovers in the game, while the Wildcats coughed up the ball only six times. As a result, Villanova outscored Penn in points off turnovers by a margin of 21-4 in the game. 

The Wildcats’ pressure defense has been a staple of this team all season and could be a huge asset when going up against excellent teams in March. 

“We just scrapped for a road win,” Wright said in the postgame press conference. “That was a really difficult environment against a really hungry team with a great game plan. We were able to just gut it out. It wasn’t pretty and there really wasn’t anything real positive that we did except for being mentally strong to keep playing every possession. Finally, we kind of broke through at the end.”

Saturday night’s win closed the book on Villanova’s nonconference schedule this season, as the ’Cats completed an undefeated record of 13-0 against opponents outside of the Big East.

The flawless non-conference run has helped Villanova gather the fifth best RPI in the country.

The win was also the Wildcats’ 12th straight over Penn and 11th straight overall in the Big 5. 

Villanova is back in action on Sunday as Creighton visits the Pavilion for the first time as members of the Big East.

The Wildcats will seek to avenge two double-digit losses from last season as the Blue Jays were the only team to defeat ’Nova in regular season conference play.  

Tipoff is scheduled for  7 p.m. and will be broadcasted live on Fox Sports 1.