Ford: Jenkins continues to struggle

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Villanova forward Kris Jenkins lays up the basketball past Mount St. Mary's guard Greg Alexander.

BUFFALO - There is plenty that worried Jay Wright after Villanova struggled through an uninspired first half against 16th-seeded Mount St. Mary's in the Wildcats' NCAA opener on Thursday night.

It didn't matter that Villanova romped out against the diminutive and tiring Mountaineers as soon as the second half began, eventually cruising to a 20-point win. Overall, the Wildcats didn't play well, certainly not well enough to continue advancing through the tournament if things don't improve.

"No, and I think they know that," Wright said. "But that's not an excuse for not coming ready to play. It's on all of us. It's on me. It's on our leadership. We're lucky to advance. We're lucky, and I think we'll put it behind us and get ready."

One thing that didn't worry Wright, however, was the continued poor shooting of Kris Jenkins, the long-range star of last year's tournament who has not found his touch recently. Jenkins was 2 of 13 from the field, including 0 for 6 on three-point attempts. Five other Wildcats finished in double figures, led by 21 points from Donte DiVincenzo, and it took nearly all of them to make up for the dropoff by Jenkins.

"Nah, that's nothing to worry about. He can have a game like that and come right back. It doesn't bother him at all," Wright said in the corridor of the KeyBank Center after the game.

Any shooter can have a game like that, but Jenkins is in a funk, and it's no surprise Wright doesn't choose to focus on it. In the last seven games - three to close out the regular season, three in the Big East tournament, and the NCAA opener Thursday night - Jenkins is shooting 9 for 46 (19.6 percent) on three-point attempts. The game against the Mount was the third time in that span Jenkins has gone oh-fer from range.

Villanova is a great example of team basketball. There isn't one player who lifts the Wildcats or one cog bigger than the rest. But Jenkins, an unflappable leader, can set the tone with his shooting, and that tone wasn't set against the Mountaineers. Do the others miss that electricity when it isn't there?

"I really thought . . . this is our 35th game - I didn't think we were capable of that," Wright said. "I thought we were capable of coming out and, you know, missing some shots, coming out and making some mistakes. But the level of energy we started the game with, I didn't think we were capable of that. I'm in a little bit of shock myself."

Maybe that wasn't tied to the struggles of Jenkins, who missed all seven attempts in the first half and didn't score until there were 4 minutes, 48 seconds left in the game. But he didn't help.

"I thought every shot was fine. They just didn't go in. That's how it goes sometimes. You just have to find a way to affect the game in other ways," said Jenkins, who had five rebounds and three assists to go with his seven points. "I thought in the second half, we picked up our intensity, made plays and got some stops. When things didn't go our way, we didn't sulk, didn't pout. We made some minor adjustments, and we'll use this to learn and get better for next game."

Mount St. Mary's went out to a 10-2 lead before Villanova got anything going at all. The crowd began to buzz a little and root for the history of a 16-seed beating a 1-seed. If it had somehow happened in this case, against a defending national champion that was the top overall seed in the tournament, it would have been viewed as the biggest upset in college basketball history. The teams were still only separated by a point at halftime, with Villanova holding a one-point lead, but the Mountaineers and their six-man rotation were probably already doomed.

"They really outplayed us," Wright said afterward. "We just . . . had more size and some more talented players that just made plays. We just had bigger, better athletes, but they were a great team. I thought they were the better team tonight."

He meant they got more out of their guys than Villanova got out of its, and that might be true, even if the final margin was still 20 points. The Wildcats opened the second half with a 21-6 run as they began to get easy runouts against the gassed Mountaineers.

"The way we approach every game is never to come in and focus on offense. We want to be aggressive [offensively], but we pride ourselves on defense and rebounding and getting stops," Jenkins said. "We were able to do that in the second half."

Of course, if the first half hadn't been so bad, the second half wouldn't have been as necessary.

"We know that if we play like this come next game, no matter who we play, it's over," Jenkins said.

They also know, although it doesn't have to be said, that a year ago it was Kris Jenkins who lit the fire with his shooting. The Wildcats are still waiting for that spark to return.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports