Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Jay Wright insisted Villanova was not panicked at halftime.



Jay Wright insisted Villanova was not panicked at halftime.

"We did not have to yell and scream," he told the horde of reporters assembled before him.

But something happened in that locker room, regardless of the decibel level. Something cause the Wildcats players to step up their games, and to turn a 41-31 deficit into an 80-67 win.

"It could have been [they were] tight, it could have been [they were] surprised by [American's] physicalness," Wright said. "I think our guys were surprised at how strong they were on ball screens, how strong they were in the post... I don't know why they didn't expect that, but we just got a lot more aggressive in the second half."

That included finally pounding the ball inside after taking 14 three-point attempts in the first half. The Wildcats attempted 26 free throws in the second half.

Wright said he thought "this game was us just having bigger stronger athletes at the end." But it's one thing to have the athletes and another to play a game that suits them.

It's why I think Syracuse would beat Temple if they meet on Sunday. The Orange have the better big mn and I assume that Jim Boeheim will get them the ball.

If that doesn't happen, things could be different.

The other thing that impacted the game was Villanova's pressure defense in the second half. American had a lot of time to spread out the Wildcats in the first half, and one result of that was a number of open threes for Brian Gilmore.
The Eagles still got a fair number of looks in the second half, but the press definitely made a difference.

"We went to some full-court pressure, which shortened the shot clock," Wright said. "They spaced us out, but we didn't have to chase them for as long a period of time, and we were wearing them down [on offense]."

The raw numbers are these: Villanova shot 24-for-50 from the game (48.0%), including 10-for-31 from three-point range (32.3%) and 14-for-19 from two-point range (73.7%), and 26-for-29 from the free throw line (89.8%). 10 offensive rebounds, 28 defensive rebounds, 15 assists, 16 turnovers, eight blocks, eight steals and 12 fouls committed.

That adds up to 68 possessions and 1.173 points per possession.

American shot 27-for-62 from the field (43.5%), including 10-for-31 from three-point range (32.3%) and 17-for-31 from two-point range (54.8%), and 3-for-5 from the free throw line (60.0%). Seven offensive rebounds, 17 defensive rebounds, 16 assists, 12 turnovers, one block, eight steals and 24 fouls committed.

That adds up to 69 possessions and 0.970 points per possession.

The really interesting numbers come from comparing the two halves. In the first half, Villanova only attempted three free throws; in the second, they attempted 26. At the other end, American kept firing away from the perimeter and missing. I said during the liveblog that if you live by the three you run the risk of dying by it, and that's what happened.

Joe Juliano found another interesting stat: American scored 20 points off turnovers in the first half and none at all in the second half.

Wright was asked whether it's a good thing to win a close game in the first round.

"It is now that it's over," he quipped. "You definitely don't wish for this. You always have to temper warning your players about this, and then overdoing it and seeming like you're panicked. I wanted our guys to understand how good this team is... but you don't want that kind of game. Now that it's over, I think it's going to be really good."

From the neutral perspective, this game was fun. From the Villanova perspective, it had to be infuriating. I remember saying during the first half that I didn't have a problem with the Wildcats taking so many perimeter shots, but in retrospect I should have known better.

You win games that matter inside, not outside, and you wonder what this game would have been like had Villanova played the first half like it did the second.

"We're doing what we want to do, we've just got to keep doing for 40 minutes," Wright said.

Good idea.

Line of the game goes to Dwayne Anderson:

D. Anderson

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Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

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