OMAHA, Neb. – The return of Phil Booth to the Villanova lineup is certainly a welcome development for the third-ranked Wildcats as they seek to settle into a substitution rotation that will last them through the Big East tournament and into the NCAAs.
However, for coach Jay Wright, well-known for preferring to manage a shorter bench than some of his colleagues, the challenge is to come up with a steady rotation while maintaining the chemistry of a team that went 2½ months without a full complement of players due to injuries.
One objective is to get Booth, who started all 20 games in which he participated before suffering a broken bone in his right hand on Jan. 23, back into the first five. Whether it happens Saturday at CenturyLink Center when the Cats (25-3, 12-3 Big East) take on Creighton (19-9, 8-7) won’t be known until just before the game.
In his return in Wednesday’s 93-62 win over DePaul, Booth scored 14 points off the bench in 16 minutes, a performance that Wright said left him “amazed.”
“We’re trying to get our chemistry together with Phil,” Wright said Thursday on the Big East coaches’ call. “We’ve got to get our rotations down. We’d like to get him back in the starting rotation. We’ve got to figure out where he is conditioning-wise. We have to see when we can get a distinct rotation down.”
If and when Booth becomes a starter again, Donte DiVincenzo will return to his sixth-man role, where he likely will play starter’s minutes. Since Wright is known to favor an eight-man rotation, one of his freshmen – Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Jermaine Samuels – will see less playing time.
On Wednesday night, Samuels played just six minutes – one in the first half – as compared to 10 for Gillespie and 11 for Cosby-Roundtree.
“I think we’d like to use all nine, and I think the challenge is, how do we do that each game?” Wright said. “Probably it’ll be eight every game and then how we fit that ninth guy in will be unique to the game.
“Saying that, one of the things we have learned in our career is you always start with that plan, and then the game happens. Foul trouble. Injury. Lineups by the other team. And it goes out the window.”
The Wildcats will be playing their third road game in front of a third sellout crowd in the last 11 days. They knocked down a season-high 19 three-pointers against the Bluejays on Feb. 1 and defeated them, 98-78, at the Wells Fargo Center.
“We have to do a better job of running them off the [three-point] line,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “That’s easier said than done because of their ability to get to the rim and score in the paint. You have to pull your hair out trying to come up with a defensive plan because they can beat you in so many ways.”
McDermott said the key for his team will be a fast start to get the crowd of nearly 18,000 into the game. Wright said the key for his team will be making sure that doesn’t happen.
”Once they get it going in there and that crowd gets going, it’s tough to stem them, that emotion in that building,” Wright said. “It affects everybody on the court. You’re better off if you can keep them a little subdued early.”