Villanova learned its lesson from Georgetown

Jay Wright had a simple explanation for the turnaround that took place Saturday afternoon in the Wells Fargo Center, when the same Villanova team that got dusted by Georgetown three weeks ago did some dusting of its own.

"Eighteen-to-22-year-olds, man," Wright said. "We looked like they did last game, and they looked like we did."

If that is disconcerting for a college coach - to never really know what to expect in a given game - it is also a part of the business that has to be accepted. Otherwise, it can get to you.

"It used to be maddening. I hope I've developed a little wisdom," Wright said.

After losing by 20 points in Washington, Wright and his coaching staff studied the film and tried to figure out what went wrong and what adjustments to the game plan needed to be made. The more they looked, the more they decided that the game plan was fine. So, it was the same one they carried into Saturday's rematch.

"It was the same guys doing the same things," Wright said. "The last game was so bad it was hard to tell if it was our scheme or we were that bad. We did the same things this game. We just played better."

They could hardly have played worse than they had in the previous meeting, when the Wildcats trailed by 22 at halftime and shot just 34 percent from the field for the game. But a reversal like this can't be explained away by the biorhythms of unpredictable young players.

What happened in Washington was that a Villanova team that had gotten slightly complacent with its offense against some lesser lights ran up against a team that challenged the Wildcats to adjust - and they didn't.

"A lot of things were coming easier for them before that game, and we got smacked in the face. It got their attention," Wright said. "Georgetown forces you to make more passes to get an open shot than anyone else. Sometimes, you get into a rhythm on offense where you drive the ball, make a pass, make another pass, and get a shot. Against them, we were taking the shot we had been used to taking, and we learned we had to make a couple more passes. This time, we did a good job of making the extra extra pass."

Georgetown wasn't able to match that against Villanova's clinging, trapping, rotating defense. The Hoyas committed nine turnovers and shot just 31 percent from the floor as they fell into the deep halftime deficit from which they never emerged.

"Against Villanova, you can't just make one pass and get an open look," coach John Thompson III said. "Their energy was just what we expected it to be."

Maybe it was merely Georgetown's turn to get smacked in the face, or maybe it will turn out to be a good lesson for the Hoyas, just as Wright said that the earlier beatdown had paid a benefit for Villanova.

"I don't know," Thompson said. "I'll try to figure that out on the ride down 95."

That is the nature of the regular season in the Big East. It rolls on, and the coaches hope the lessons add up to something meaningful by March. For the Wildcats, it rolls on with road games against Providence and Butler, which are a combined 23-3 at home. Additional lessons might emerge from those games. Wright doesn't look at the coming stretch as meaningful. He looks at Wednesday's game at Providence, and that's enough for him.

"I have no interest," he said, of looking ahead. "Who knows what's going to happen at Providence? And whatever happens, you deal with it going into the next game, so you can't worry about it. Most coaches feel that way. The question is whether you can get your team to feel that way."

For their part, the players say the right thing in that regard. Georgetown was on the schedule for Saturday, so they played the game and tried to play it better than the previous one.

"We just take it as our next game," guard Darrun Hilliard said.

He's 21, will be 22 in April, so he might be easier to reach. But every coach knows that there are good days out there for young basketball players and bad ones. The bad ones that come along during the regular season can become teaching opportunities.

In fact, they have to, because the bad days that come along after that provide lessons, too, but those are much harder to take.

 


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