It’s obvious that Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are the two most important pieces in the success that Villanova has enjoyed this season, especially in the last five weeks during which the Wildcats have won seven straight games and returned to the AP rankings at No. 18.
But the team’s younger players also have done their part in keeping the Cats atop the Big East by learning how to play with the two mainstays, giving them space on the floor to score and being available to accept passes from them and shoot when open.
It’s a different way of playing for Jay Wright. Still, it’s working for the Wildcats (15-4, 6-0 Big East), who take on Seton Hall (12-7, 3-4) Sunday at Wells Fargo Center.
“We haven’t played this way before,” the Villanova coach said Friday after practice at the Davis Center. “We’ve always played with great balance, so it puts a lot of decision-making in Phil’s and Eric’s hands, not just scoring. We’re just trying to bring those other guys along. The Butler game was important for us.
“Teams are playing us different ways and those two have to be aggressive to score. They have to make good decisions and find their teammates. I thought Phil did a great job in the Butler game of finding people.”
Villanova defeated the Bulldogs, 80-72, with Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Saddiq Bey scoring in double figures to supplement 23 points from Paschall and 17 from Booth. Booth leads the Cats in scoring at 18.4 points per game, with Paschall at 16.9.
An area where Wright says, “We’re not there yet but we’re getting there,” is players being aggressive in looking for their shots, and not always deferring to Booth and Paschall.
“There’s pressure that comes with that,” he said. “They feel like, ‘If I take it and I miss it, they could have had it.’ Phil and Eric do a great job of letting them know they have confidence in them. We all do.”
Gillespie, who drained three straight three-pointers in a decisive second-half run against Butler, said he has gotten more comfortable with being aggressive and picking his spots.
“We know E and Phil, they can’t carry us throughout the whole year,” he said. “They’re going to need to get rest throughout the game, so guys have to step up throughout the game, make plays. I just found spots where I was able to catch and shoot and make plays off ball screens.”
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said he has been impressed with how ‘Nova’s younger players have played off Booth and Paschall, particularly Gillespie.
“I don’t think he’s trying to do too much,” he said. “I don’t think he’s trying to create plays that he doesn’t need to create. They get an offensive rebound and he’s always in the right spot to get a three. When you try to double Paschall and you leave him, he’s making every big shot. His assist-turnover ratio is terrific. He’s playing very well defensively.”
The Pirates, who lost in overtime to Villanova in their last meeting at the Prudential Center, have lost three straight. They haven’t played since last Saturday when DePaul defeated them, 97-93.
They are led by junior guard Myles Powell, who is second in the conference in scoring, behind Marquette’s Markus Howard, at 22.2 points per game, and is tied for second in both made three-pointers (2.95 per game) and steals (1.84).
The Wildcats limited Kamar Baldwin, Butler’s leading scorer, to just 11 points and now has another test in Powell.