The last time we saw the Villanova Wildcats basketball team they had just suffered a heart-breaking upset loss in Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament. The 71-68 defeat to the NC State Wolfpack sent #1 seeded Villanova home after the Round of 32, and ended the college career of seniors Darrun Hilliard (who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons) and JayVaughn Pinkston. After the season, guard Dylan Ennis chose to transfer out of the University.
Fast forward eight months to Sunday, November 8th and the 2015-16 Villanova Wildcats took the court at the Wells Fargo Center to face off against Pace University in an exhibition match-up. The new look Wildcats return two starters from last year, seniors Ryan Arcidiacono (Big East c0-player of the year in 2014-15) and Daniel Ochefu, in addition to key players Josh Hart (2014-15 Big East tournament MVP), Kris Jenkins, and Phil Booth. This year’s team also includes Darryl Reynolds (who played sparingly last year), red-shirt freshman Mikal Bridges, and freshmen Donte Divincenzo and Jalen Brunson. Brunson is considered by many to be the best recruit to land at Villanova since Jason Frazier (who’s Villanova career was marred by injuries).
Do-everything forward Hart led the way in the first half. Hart, who seemed to be involved in every other play on both ends of the court, scored 11 points in the opening 20 minutes (the only Wildcat player to score in double figures in the opening half). Arcidiacono added 9 points in the first half and Ochefu kicked in 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The scoring was so balanced that Booth was the only Villanova player to not score in the first half. Brunson missed his first 3 field-goal attempts (all from beyond the arc) before knocking down his first bucket as a Wildcat, a three-pointer with just under 5 minutes to play in the half. Villanova led 38-20 at the break.
While the scoring leaders changed in the second half, Villanova’s dominance over Division-2 Pace did not. Hart did not score again, finishing the game with 11 points. Arcidiacono scored 2 more points to also finish the game with 11 and Ochefu added 3 more to finish with 10 points and a game-high 12 boards. While the veterans dominated the first half for Villanova, it was the underclassmen leading the way in the second half.
Bridges added 9 more points to finish the game with 10 points and Brunson added 10 more after the break to finish the game with 13 points (on a team-high 27 minutes played). Divincenzo and Jenkins both finished the game with 9 points apiece and Villanova downed Pace 80-45. It was a valuable experience for the young players who will not see the court again at the Wells Fargo Center until the team hosts Providence in a Big East match-up in late January. The Wildcats will only play 3 regular season games at the WFC this season (instead of their usual 5 games) to keep the eligible under NCAA to play March Madness games in the building, should they make the Sweet 16 in that region.
Villanova, who is the unanimous coaches choice to win the Big East again this season, will open their regular season this Friday night when they host Fairleigh Dickinson at the Pavilion at 7PM.
[Photo credit: D. Jacob Miller Photography]
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