The game of basketball is analyzed and dissected, and populated by coaches who think their systems on offense and defense are the best for their teams. But as Villanova and 17,515 fans saw Saturday at Wells Fargo Center, the game is so much easier when the ball goes in the basket.
After four consecutive games of sub-40 percent shooting, the Wildcats had a much better time of it against Butler, knocking down 54.2 percent of their field-goal attempts in the second half and 52 percent for the afternoon in a 75-54 Big East Conference victory.
Phil Booth, who had connected on only 30.4 percent of his shots in his previous four games, including 6 of 33 from three-point territory, drained 10 of 15 attempts overall and 4 of 7 from beyond the arc to score 28 points for the Cats (22-8, 13-4), who stayed alive in the race for the league’s regular-season title.
“In the second half, it felt like we were making shots,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright said. “If you play good defense, eventually you’re going to get some easy looks. I thought we got out in transition a little bit because we got good stops. The shots you get in transition are always more open than the ones you get in the halfcourt offense.”
Actually, Villanova, which opened the game shooting just 3-for-14, made 10 of its last 12 shots in the first half to recover from a nine-point deficit and take a 33-30 lead at the break. They stayed hot after halftime, knocking down seven of their first 10 tries with three three-pointers to increase their advantage to 51-34 with 12 minutes, 37 seconds to play.
“We just got into a rhythm,” said the 6-foot-3 Booth, who also had five rebounds, three assists, and two steals, and blocked a layup attempt by 6-10 Nate Fowler. “We got a lot of stops in the second half, so it was a chance for us to get out in transition and get easy looks and easy baskets, and we started to play off that.
“I think it was team defense, chemistry, talking. Guys were communicating very well in the second half, just trying to be a step ahead of what they were doing trying to have an idea of what they were doing and trying to communicate as well as we could defensively.”
The defense against was strong. Butler (16-15, 6-10) shot just 29.4 percent in the second half and 37.7 percent for the game. After making nine of their first 17 tries, the visitors shot 31.8 percent the rest of the contest and never got closer than eight after the Cats took a 17-point lead.
Kamar Baldwin, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with a 17.6-point average, had another tough day against ‘Nova, scoring 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. He shot 5-for-14 and scored 11 points in the first meeting against the Wildcats.
The Wildcats outrebounded Butler, 23-15, in the second half and 37-29 in the game. Jermaine Samuels, who scored seven points after a 29-point outburst in Wednesday’s win over Marquette, pulled down a game-high 11 boards.
Wright said he played a bigger lineup at times, with one guard and four forwards, including 6-8 Eric Paschall at the two-guard spot, and it helped. He said he and his staff started “tinkering” during the Cats’ recent three-game losing streak and acknowledged, “We’re running out of time to try things.
“We weren’t making shots, we weren’t playing well,” he said. “We’ve just been tinkering. Part of it is on us as a coaching staff, and part of it is the players have to step up and be consistent. Now we’ve got to be committed to this, the way we’re playing right now.”