The struggling Villanova Wildcats were beaten convincingly by the University of South Florida Bulls at the Pavilion on Thursday night, 74-57. The loss was Villanova’s third in a row (all in the Big East) and sixth in its last eight games. Moreover, it was only the second loss for Villanova in their last 53 games at the Pavilion. Once again, the Wildcats could not overcome cold spells on offense and lapses on the defensive end. After trailing by only two points at halftime, the Wildcats could not keep pace with the Bulls, who dominated the boards and got some timely scoring from guards Jawanza Poland and Brian Nash in the second half. Consequently, Villanova lost by double digits.
Maalik Wayns led the way for the forlorn Wildcats with 17 points, and Jayvaughn Pinkston added 12, all in the second half. Wayns and Dominic Cheek did not start the game for Villanova as a result of a “minor practice issue”. Instead, Villanova fielded a starting lineup featuring four freshmen and Mouphtaou Yarou.
The Wildcats got off to a good start and led 9-2 . After Nova went out in front 12-4 on a trey by Wayns, the Bulls surged and closed the gap to 19-17. South Florida then took the lead on a three pointer by Blake Nash, 20-19. The Bulls retained the lead and went to the locker room at half-time ahead by two points, 27-25.
The Bulls started the second half on a 13-4 run to take an 11 point lead, 40-29, with 15:55 left in the game. With South Florida holding a 12 point lead at the 11:55 mark, Jayvaughn Pinkston went on a one man mini-run, scoring 7 straight points to bring the Wildcats back into contention. After Dominic Cheek scored for Villanova, the home team trailed by only 3 points. However, the Bulls were not to be deterred, and slowly built the lead back up to 12 points with under five minutes to play. South Florida built on their lead from there and won by the final score of 74-57.
South Florida improved its record to 9-7 overall, and 2-1 in the Big East. The Bulls totally dominated the Wildcats on the boards, finishing with a 38-26 advantage. Victor Rudd Jr. pulled down 10 rebounds to pace the Bulls. Jawanza Poland led South Florida in scoring with a career high 20 points. Nash had 12 points and 6 assists. South Florida shot 58.3% from the field in the second half, and 46.2% for the game. The Bulls hit 20 of the 22 foul shots they attempted.
Villanova’s record fell to 7-8 overall, 0-3 in the Big East. Villanova has never before started 0-3 in the Big East. Wayns was the leading rebounder with 5, but did not have an assist. Villanova, once again, shot poorly from distance, hitting only 4 of their 20 three point shot attempts (20%).
Villanova is clearly a struggling team this season. Aside from Wayns, they have not been able to establish a second consistent scoring option. In years previous, the Cats had several players that could drive to the basket, either scoring, drawing a foul, or kicking out to an open shooter. Due to their inability to knock down open three-pointers, teams do not have to cheat out as much while defending Villanova, making it harder to get to the rim. The Wildcats also have fewer players this season than in recent history that can handle the ball. It is somewhat puzzling that the coaching staff seems unable or unwilling to implement more set offensive plays (including setting more screens for shooters).
On the defensive end, Villanova often looks confused. They are unable to defend three-pointers, especially when trying to pick up shooters in transition. Mouph Yarou, perhaps due to injury, has not developed as a strong defensive force in the middle. Several Villanova players are frequently being beaten off the dribble and seem unable to stay in front of anyone.
While this is a young team (with no senior leadership) that shows flashes of its potential, it is going to be a long, hard, learning curve for the Wildcats if they can’t make some quick adjustments.
Next up for Villanova is another Big East conference game against the DePaul Blue Devils on Sunday, January 8th at noon at the Pavilion. DePaul is coming off a last second win last night over the Pitt Panthers.
Many former Villanova players were in attendance on Thursday evening including Tim Thomas.