PHILADELPHIA(CBS)—Villanova is getting there. Gradually, the Wildcats are inching their way into the kind of team their coach, Jay Wright, thinks they could be. Wednesday night’s Big East Conference 88-74 victory over No. 18 Louisville at the Wells Fargo Center may have provided the nudge Wright needed.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 7 in the nation, remain one of three teams (along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse) still undefeated in the Big East, moving to 4-0 in the conference and 15-1 overall, winners now of 10-straight games, while Louisville fell for the first time this season in conference play, dropping to 2-1 and 13-3 overall.
What was nice about this victory was the productivity Villanova got from their big man, 6-10 sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou, who finished with a career-high 18 points and 11 rebounds. Yarou played a big role in helping Villanova outscore Louisville in the paint, 42-24.
“Mouph was just awesome tonight,” Wright said. “He’s getting better defensively, and I thought we’d have a chance to get him the ball inside tonight.”
Corey Stokes finished with a team-high 23 for Villanova, which scored a season-high 88 against Louisville, and led four Wildcat starters in double figures.
There were nine lead changed—seven in the first half. But after Antonio Pena’s short jumper with 18:38 left in the game gave Villanova a 46-44 lead, the Wildcats never trailed again. The closest Louisville would come to the Wildcats was 69-63, with 6:24 left to play after a Stephan Van Treese free throw.
Then just as suddenly, the Wildcats exploded, scoring seven straight on their way to building their largest lead of the game, 81-65 with less than four minutes left.
Villanova took a 42-41 halftime lead. But things didn’t look too smooth for the Wildcats at the outset, trailing 7-0 the first 90 seconds into the game. The seven-point margin proved to be the largest Louisville would have. The Wildcats chipped away to tie the score at 7-7.
From there, it turned into the kind of frenetic game Villanova loves to play. The Wildcats were 5-of-8 from three-point range, while they had trouble getting out to defend against the Cardinals, who made 8-of-15 for 53.3-percent from beyond the arc.
Stokes led all scorers with 16 at the half, and Corey Fisher added 10, going 4-for-5 from the floor, including a trey. Stokes was coming off a left hamstring injury, suffered in the Cincinnati victory.
“I wasn’t thinking about it,” said Stokes, referring to his hamstring.
“But I was,” Wright said. “I was thinking about it a lot.”
There were seven lead-changes in the helter-skelter first half, and it was Fisher that capped it for Villanova, putting the ’Cats up 42-41 with a little under a minute left in the half.
“They sliced through us in the first half,” Wright said. “Our second-half, half-court defense was very good. But I think our transition defense was terrible in the first half. I still see a lot of improvement with this team. I do know we have to get a lot better.”
Wright had expressed some doubts as to whether or not Villanova was good enough to earn its No. 7 rating. He’s starting to come around.
“We’re starting to earn it,” Wright said.
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito