Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Villanova leaves it all on the floor in 71-53 win over Tennessee | Mike Jensen

Villanova's defense stole the show at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Villanova's Collin Gillespie on the floor for a loose ball.
Villanova's Collin Gillespie on the floor for a loose ball.Read moreJessica Hill / AP

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- The hardest workers early Saturday afternoon inside Mohegan Sun Arena? Maybe the folks in charge of mopping the basketball court.

Under one basket, two young girls with pigtails wearing long T-shirts had the big mops, taller than those girls wielding them. Villanova’s bench kept sending out reinforcements. Managers sprinted out with towels. Even Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, injured for his last season, got out there making sure his guys had a dry surface to dive on.

Asked later what the difference had been between No. 5 Villanova and his 17th-ranked Volunteers -- a Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tipoff semifinal settled early, but eventually a 71-53 final -- Tennessee coach Rick Barnes right-off said, “I think their willingness to come up with 50-50 balls.”

An artful way of saying Villanova didn’t just want it more, but acted on such desires.

“We’ll learn a lot from this,” Barnes told Jay Wright right afterward.

Saturday’s lessons showed up early and often. Villanova had a 20-point lead, practically checkmate before Tennessee even got to a dozen points. At halftime, Tennessee had 14 turnovers -- some creative, topped by an attempt to bowl a ball out to halfcourt at their own end. (Villanova happily grabbed the gutter ball, went the other way.) The Vols made just five first-half shots, a single three-pointer.

Villanova put four starters into double figures, but those four only shot 19-for-46 (41.3%), with Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, and Brandon Slater scoring 14, Justin Moore with 13. This game was all about the other end. Center Eric Dixon set an early tone. Dixon hit the floor at least four times … started one fastbreak after he had tipped the ball, dove around a Tennessee player, got the ball moving ahead. Another stand, three different Wildcats hit the floor, in three different areas of the court.

It’s still to be determined exactly what the identity of this Villanova team is … but it won’t be for lack of trying.

You get the impression that Villanova realized that one guard in this game who is mentioned as a potential NBA lottery pick is a Tennessee freshman, Kennedy Chandler, who had begun his college career with a 20-point game and a 16-point game, adding 10 assists. Those games were against Tennessee-Martin and East Tennessee State.

“They certainly hadn’t played a team like this before,” Barnes said of all his newcomers, after Chandler finished 1-for-9, with 6 points.

Barnes talked about how Villanova would be posting up and trying to take charges -- “They don’t want you three guys in the game,” he had told his stars, before they saw what he was talking about.

Wright is waiting on his own newcomers, making them earn their time the old-fashioned way, on the practice court. Of course, a lot of that is because Gillespie and Samuels are back for a fifth season. Some Villanova fans have wondered if this short rotation could be freshened up if the young guys saw some time. The flip side: Does anyone really think Villanova would have even gotten to overtime at UCLA trading vet minutes for young minutes?

While three newcomers saw a little time -- Jordan Longino getting out there before halftime -- Wright had talked this week about how it’s not just how the young players themselves perform, but how the team as a whole functions when they are out there.

“Even though we have veteran players, from the last game we play in the spring till you’re starting practice, you’re not doing those things,” Wright said of the intangibles. “You’re playing pickup, you’re home. You’re not doing the things that we do … You lose it in the offseason. We’ve always got to get it back in the season. These guys have been great leaders that way.”

Wright was sitting between Gillespie and Samuels. Villanova’s captains could have pointed out that every Villanova starter had at least a couple of offensive rebounds, that three starters had at least two steals.

They merely talked about playing Villanova basketball … yada, yada, yada, as one veteran reporter put it in a question about players talking about Attitude and all the rest. It’s a given, what they’re going to say. How they put it into action, more interesting.

All Saturday did was give them another test Sunday afternoon (1 p.m.) against Purdue, another ranked opponent The No. 6-ranked Boilermakers beat North Carolina, 93-84.

Maybe the results will be radically different. Just have the mops dried out.