With Villanova’s encampment at the Mohegan Sun Arena’s “Bubbleville” having stretched out to a seventh day on Sunday, two of Jay Wright’s former players, assistant coach Mike Nardi and director of basketball operations Dwayne Anderson, had a request for their coach.
“They stressed to me, ‘[The players] need to get away from us, and really, you,’ ” Wright recalled Monday in a Zoom call with reporters from Uncasville, Conn.
That’s life in the bubble. The Wildcats, who have dropped from No. 3 to No. 12 in the Associated Press rankings, will play their fourth game in seven days Tuesday when they take on Hartford. It was, however, after their third game in four days – an 81-73 overtime upset loss to Virginia Tech – that they knew it was time to give their players a break.
“We actually gave them a free day away from us where we promised them as a staff we wouldn’t talk to them about Virginia Tech,” Wright said. “We wouldn’t make them sit and watch film about Virginia Tech. We set up a walk outside. Dwayne wouldn’t let me walk with them in fear that I might talk to them about Virginia Tech.”
The Wildcats’ players and coaches spent Monday focused on Hartford, which lost its opener 69-57 at Connecticut. At least they found out they were playing the Hawks more than 48 hours before they would see them on the court. The Virginia Tech game was agreed to at 1:45 a.m. Friday for an 8:15 p.m. Saturday tip.
Wright called the short preparation time an unusual situation for both teams.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “Our assistants stay up all night and they just go crazy, but that’s what they do, they’re used to it. It’s hard for the players in one day to really get a feel for a team’s concepts, a team that plays a unique style.
“When you do it during the Big East Tournament, you know those teams. You’ve played them during the year. When you’re playing in the NCAA Tournament, you know who that next opponent could be, and during your week you throw some concepts in there. So this is unique, for both teams.”
Hartford is coached by John Gallagher, a former player at St. Joseph’s who has been an assistant coach at La Salle and Penn. Gallagher also assisted Penn coach Steve Donahue when Donahue was the coach at Boston College, and Wright sees similarities with the Penn offense in the Hawks’ system.
Wright will see a familiar face in Hartford’s lineup, 6-foot-2 guard Traci Carter, a graduate student from Philadelphia who has played against the Wildcats with Marquette and La Salle.
“He has given us trouble before on two different teams,” Wright said, “so he’s probably going for a hat trick here, killing us again.”
Wright admitted that he did not utilize his bench well in the Virginia Tech game. Collin Gillespie, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Caleb Daniels each played more than 40 minutes. Off the Wildcats’ bench, Cole Swider played 19 minutes, but Brandon Slater and Eric Dixon combined for only six.
“I screwed up,” he said. “We get in trouble and I get locked into our veteran guys. Eric Dixon did a good job in there, Slate did a good job in there. I should have kept our guys fresher during the game. I felt like our veterans could just steal that one. Early mistakes by the head coach, too.”
Robinson-Earl was named player of the week in the Big East Conference. The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward averaged 20 points and nine rebounds in the Wildcats’ three games, including a 28-point performance against Arizona State that led the Cats to the championship of the 2K Empire Classic.