Following back-to-back Big East wins, the time seemed right for Villanova to pick up the signature road win that would provide one more reason for the NCAA tournament committee to put the Wildcats on the A-list for March Madness.
But once again, the opponent’s experience in the backcourt made life difficult for Villanova’s corps of young, inexperienced guards. In this case Tuesday night, it was Cincinnati’s trio of seniors Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker and redshirt junior Sean Kilpatrick, and that spelled three times the trouble in ‘Nova’s 68-50 road loss.
OK, so the Wildcats overwhelmed the Big East’s two cellar dwellers – DePaul and South Florida – in their previous contests. Still, the wins brought about confidence that comes from controlling an opponent at both ends of the floor, and the hope that the momentum will continue against a tougher foe.
However, at Fifth Third Arena, it was the Bearcats doing the controlling, showing why they’ve been a Top 25 team for all but two weeks this season (including this one).
“I knew we were capable of playing well here and, because of our inexperience, I knew we were capable of not” playing well, Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I think we’ve proven we can play well enough but we haven’t proven we can do it consistently for a stretch.
“This had been our M.O. once again. That’s inexperience, not being able to put it together, adjusting to different styles. This was a very good physical defensive team.”
Though he shot just three of 14 from the field, Cashmere Wright was the catalyst playing the point for Cincinnati. He drained two of the Bearcats’ 12 three-pointers and dished out four assists while forcing the Wildcats to seek help guarding him.
Defensively, he had three steals and spent the night in the ‘Nova passing lanes. UC coach Mick Cronin said his stat people had Wright for 14 deflections and “I don’t remember anyone ever getting 14.”
Meanwhile, Villanova’s primary ballhandlers – Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard, James Bell and Tony Chennault – combined for 11 of their team’s 19 turnovers. But you’re talking about a freshman (Arcidiacono), a sophomore (Hilliard) who didn’t start last year, and a junior (Chennault) in his first year in the program.
“Their guards dominated the game,” Wright said. “We couldn’t do anything with them. We couldn’t turn them over. We couldn’t stop them off the dribble. And on the other end, they just got into our guards.”
It doesn’t get any easier on Saturday when they Wildcats travel to Hartford to take on Connecticut. The Huskies have their own pair of outstanding guards, junior Shabazz Napier (17.2 points per game entering Wednesday night’s game against Syracuse) and Ryan Boatwright (15.8).
Napier and Boatwright also average a combined 8.7 assists and 3.6 steals.
Wright said his team would work on its decision-making and playing at a comfortable tempo without being hounded into mistakes by the opposition.
“We’ve got to keep learning,” he said. “We’re not going to overreact to this. We’ve got to learn with our decision-making and not getting sped up by teams that are really good.
“Connecticut could be the same way, with their guards getting into our guards. We’ve just got to learn to make better decisions. We’ve got to guard the ball better. That’s really what it came down to” Tuesday night.