Villanova has just passed the midpoint of its 2019-20 season with a 13-3 record and a No. 14 ranking in the polls, not a bad stretch for a team that plays three juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen in its regular rotation.
The learning experiences, however, continue game after game. The latest was handling a full-court press, something that almost proved to be the Wildcats’ undoing Tuesday night when they blew an 11-point lead in the final 2 minutes, 14 seconds of regulation against DePaul. They barely got by with a 79-75 win in overtime.
The Cats get to show how their work in practice against the press will pay off Saturday against Connecticut at Wells Fargo Center. The game is a preview of the Big East rivalry that will be renewed next season when the Huskies (10-6) officially return to the conference.
The Huskies know how to disrupt opposing offenses with their pressing style. They force 16.0 turnovers per game and have limited opponents to 39.8% shooting overall and 30.2% from beyond the arc.
“They’ve been in every single game that they’ve lost,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright said Friday after practice. “Their losses have been against some really good teams and a couple of conference losses. So it’s a really tough, physical team that’s going to come after us.
“They’re athletic and quick and they’re going to come after us. We’re going to have to be ready to handle their pressure and the speed of their guards. I’m sure they’re going to take (their press) to another level after watching our DePaul game.”
While Wright was happy with the way his team gutted out a win over the Blue Demons, he wasn’t happy with the mistakes against the press. In the final 7:14 counting the end of the second half and overtime, the Wildcats turned the ball over seven times leading to nine points by DePaul.
Wright said it’s a matter of gaining experience and building confidence with a young team.
“It’s guys having the confidence from the inbounder to throw the ball in to the open man,” he said, “to the receivers being strong with the ball, to guys coming back to meet the ball. It’s just what young, inexperienced teams do. We’ve worked on it. Hopefully we’ve learned a great lesson from it. We’ll see (Saturday) if we’ve gotten better.
“You would like to be more solid at this point in the year but we just have to be honest, we’re not, so we have to keep working on it.”
Junior forward Jermaine Samuels said the Wildcats did learn some lessons from the game, but he was pleased how his teammates hung in to gain the win.
“It just showed us what we needed to work on, come back the next day and work on it,” he said. “Also, I think it showed the positive attitude of our team. We knew we made a couple of mistakes but we never folded. We kept playing and kept trying to make the right plays. You go from there and just keep getting better.”
Connecticut lost its most recent game, 89-86, to Wichita State in double overtime Sunday after rallying from nine points down to tie the game in the final 1:05 of the second half. Senior guard Christian Vital leads the Huskies at both the offensive (14.3 points per game) and defensive (2.6 steals per game) ends.