OMAHA, Neb. — Jay Wright can teach his Villanova players all he wants about how to make good decisions and carry out the right play and rely on teammates rather than go for the one-on-three hero shot, but there’s one factor that will help the Wildcats the most through their meat grinder of a Big East schedule:
Gaining experience in games.
“Watching the film of those situations in the game, it helps, but what’s most effective is just playing in games,” Wright said Monday as he accompanied the Wildcats (10-3, 1-1 Big East), now ranked 16th, to the airport for the trip to Omaha for Tuesday night’s game against Creighton (12-3, 1-1).
The Cats coach mentioned the early foul trouble that plagued Collin Gillespie and Saddiq Bey in Saturday’s 71-60 loss at Marquette, which forced his younger players to be decision-makers.
“The bad thing was they were in foul trouble,” he said. “The good thing is that the young guys got experience. The more we play them and the more they get experience, the better it will be. Then the final thing you can do is just in practice, try to set up situations as much as you can, let them see it, let them feel it. But the bottom line is, there is no substitute for experience.”
Wright said his players made poor decisions offensively after falling behind by 20 points twice against Marquette. He felt some guys tried to do too much by themselves at times instead of operating within the team framework.
“They figure, ‘All right, we’re down, I’ll get us back,’” he said. “It’s not selfishness, it’s actually the opposite: ‘I want to help my team, I’ll get us back in it.’ They learn through experience that at this level, you can’t do that. You’ve got to stick to making the right plays and the right decisions regardless of how bad you want to do it yourself.”
The Wildcats need to find their way out of an offensive funk that has seen them make just 26.3% of their three-point shots over the last five games. They went to the free-throw line only five times against Marquette, and were outscored 26-3 in that area.
“It’s mixing up our threes and not just going to the basket, but going to the basket ferociously instead of going to the basket in kind of a crafty way,” Wright said. “Sometimes you get a little too crafty and you’re not drawing fouls, you’re not physical enough. Again, it’s young guys being part of it. The other part of it is you’ve got to learn to be more aggressive attacking the rim.”
The Wildcats need a better start in another hostile environment Tuesday night. The Bluejays boast three of the Big East’s best three-point shooters on the court at the same time, with sophomore Marcus Zegarowski (a team-high 18.1-point average) and juniors Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock combining to shoot 42% from distance and averaging eight threes per game.
Villanova has won 10 of its last 11 games over Creighton and is 4-2 in Omaha since the Big East’s reconfiguration. But Wright knows if the Bluejays get the crowd going by starting to hit shots and speeding up the game, it could be a long plane ride home.