Wildcats get much-needed road win, await BIg Five matchups

Villanova's Mouphtaou Yarou (13) scores against Vanderbilt's Kevin Bright. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Villanova came up with a good road win Saturday at Vanderbilt, capitalizing on the advantages it enjoyed in experience and toughness.

All right, so this isn’t exactly a Commodore team that compares with the squad that posted 25 victories last season – their seventh 20-win season in a nine-year period – and had three players taken in the first 31 picks of the NBA draft. Vanderbilt used five sophomores and one freshman – and no seniors – in its eight-man rotation Saturday.

But the Wildcats will take the win where they can get it – this one being by 62-52 at Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn. – especially now facing a schedule that will see them play three Big Five games over a seven-day period beginning Wednesday against Temple at the Pavilion (9 p.m.).

The Wildcats outrebounded Vanderbilt 34-28 and did not allow the Commodores a single offensive rebound in the second half and no second-chance points in the entire game.

Vanderbilt was content to stand outside the three-point arc – 26 of its 46 shots came from deep. The Commodores made nine for a 34.6 percent mark, in the same neighborhood as Villanova’s subpar 36.7 percent three-point defense entering the game.

But the Wildcats shut them down late.

“I thought in the first half we struggled with their offense,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright said. “They got some good looks and didn’t hit them. So in the second half, they were 4 of 14. We did a much better job of recognizing” where their better three-point shooters were on the floor.

On the boards, JayVaughn Pinkston pulled down a team-high eight rebounds, four offensive, matching the total of Vanderbilt’s offensive rebounds in the game. Mouphtaou Yarou added seven to go with 16 points.

“In the first half, we were getting caught on their screens,” Wright said. “When you get caught on screens and you’re scrambling, even though they missed the shot, they’re getting the offensive rebounds. Part of the first half, they didn’t have many and then they had four toward the end of the half. We were really struggling with their offense.

“I thought in the second half we attacked their screens well and we stayed matched up so when they missed, we rebounded the ball.”

Wright called it “a good win for us” and said the Commodores “are difficult to defend (because) they run a lot of complicated sets.”

Now the Wildcats stay in the city, with home games against Temple and St. Joseph’s (Dec. 11) and a contest next Saturday versus Penn at the Palestra.

Wright said that with the experience of last Sunday’s 77-74 overtime loss at La Salle, he doesn’t have to tell his younger players how intense the City Series games are.

“I think La Salle was a really good experience for us,” he said. “I know it looked bad and in that sense, it was. But for us to go through that on the road, to go into an overtime game, now I don’t have to explain to them any more what a Big Five game is all about.

“Tyreek Duren (La Salle guard) is going to hit shots like that. That always happens in every Big Five game. It doesn’t matter who’s in the Big Five game, it happens. Now I think they know. So I really look forward to these three. I think our guys are going to be pretty well prepared.”

Yarou, one of two seniors on the roster, agreed with his coach that his younger teammates “got it at La Salle.”

“But most of (the underclassmen) watched games we played my freshman year, my sophomore year,” he said. “They know the Big Five is a different, a different mindset. We’ve got to focus on what our team does and go back and get better as a team.”

--Joe Juliano