NEW YORK - If you look at the box score from Villanova's 81-71 loss to Missouri, you'll see that the two teams shot pretty close to the same percentages from the field and from beyond the arc. For Villanova, it was 41.7% and 37.9% respectively; for Missouri it was 42.4% and 40.0%.
In fact, the Wildcats made one more three-pointer than the Tigers did, and shot a better percentage from two-point range: 45.2% to 43.9%.
But there wasn't any question about which team was better. Missouri was faster, more skilled and definitely more composed with the ball. The Tigers' eight turnovers ('Nova had 15) and 23 assists on 28 made field goals proved it.
That resulted in big nights for two of Missouri's most important players. Marcus Denmon led all scorers with 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting - including 6-for-10 from three-point range. Ricardo Ratliffe tallied 17 points with a perfect 8-for-8 performance from the field, and pulled down 11 rebounds - including five on the offensive end.
Still, I can't help thinking Villanova had chances to at least make this game a lot closer than it was. For one thing, Mouphtaou Yarou only had seven field goal attempts, and JayVaughn Pinkston only had six. By contrast, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek had 11 each, and freshman Darrun Hilliard had 13 coming off the bench.
Villanova has a ways to go, but then again, we knew that. This is a young team, and it's being forced to grow up fast. That process will certainly continue when the Wildcats take the floor at what will be a very hostile Liacouras Center on Saturday.
Here's a transcript of some highlights from Villanova's postgame press conference. You can listen to the whole thing in the audio player at the bottom of the post.
On whether Villanova simply ran out of energy at the end:
I don't think we ran out of gas. They have a lot of answers. They're a good team. You're not just going to cut into a lead - you're not going to make an eight-point play against a team like that. We cut it, and a good team made a run.
It's a 40-minute game. We probably played 33 good minutes. Against a good team, those couple of minutes are going to cost you in a big game. We're going to learn from that, go back to practice and get better.
On a play late in the game in which he got caught in a corner and turned the ball over:
I always come down trying to be aggressive and keep my dribble. I dribbled to the spot where I always get to looking for a trailing three from Cheek, but they denied it. I should have called timeout right there.
On Darrun Hilliard:
He's stepping up. He's playing well. We expect a lot out of him. We don't look at him as a freshman anymore, six or seven games into the season. We look at him as one of the guys, and he's stepping up.
On having five Villanova players register double figures in scoring:
It wasn't really about the scoring. It was about making stops at the end of the game. Missouri is a great team, and we're just going to learn from this and go to practice and get better.
It was no surprise how good of a team they were. We were trying to scrap and fight and try to keep it close, and steal it at the end. They just have so many answers and are so disciplined, intelligent and experienced.
I thought when we got [the deficit] to seven points and had the ball with a little bit less than two minutes [left], I thought that was our chance. We got trapped in the corner and threw the ball away. That was our chance, right there, we had it. We didn't have the game, but we could have put a little bit of pressure on them.
On whether his team is getting easier to watch:
We're geting better. It's a little embarrassing sitting here saying after we lose by 10 [points] that we're getting better, but that's just where we are right now.
The confidence we gain from this is that you're not going to come in here and beat this kind of team. You can't press them. Their guards are so good. You're not going to come in and jump up by 20 on them. You've got to just grind and grind, and get it close at the end and make some plays.
So when we got it to seven [points], we thought, this is exactly what we want from them. We had a couple mistakes, and as Maalik said, they made a couple of great plays. But we also know - defensively, for [Marcus] Denmon to get 28 [points], we started the second half giving him an open three and a backdoor cut.
That's just not coming to play. But it's five points right there to start the half. So that's what we're going to learn from.
On how his team compares to Missouri in terms of experience:
We just have a lot of improvement in a lot of spots. They don't have much room for improvement, but they don't need it. Every spot is really experienced.
On Maalik Wayns' remark that he doesn't consider Darrun Hilliard a freshman anymore:
I'm glad to hear Maalik say that, because he's still a freshman in my eyes. I'm glad Maalik has that confidence in him. I think he's going to be very good. i love the kid. He had migraine headaches tonight. He was just sitting on the bench like this [holding his head]. Everybody's got a problem, but he plays through it...
These are games that give you a measuring stick. Playing in here, the crowd is great - thank God the crowd got behind us after we got it going. It was fun being the underdog in here for once.