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Villanova’s Jay Wright: Exits of Phil Martelli, Fran Dunphy a ‘sad day’ for Big 5

The Villanova coach heard from a radio producer about Tuesday's firing of St. Joseph's Phil Martelli, and later in the day watched Temple's Fran Dunphy coach his last game. "It was emotional," he said.

Coach Jay Wright of Villanova answers questions during a press conference at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on March 20, 2019 as they prepare for their game against St. Mary’s in the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Jay Wright of Villanova answers questions during a press conference at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on March 20, 2019 as they prepare for their game against St. Mary’s in the NCAA Tournament.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

HARTFORD, Conn. – It was a dark day for Big 5 basketball on Tuesday and the emotions almost got the better of Jay Wright – twice.

The Villanova coach said Wednesday he was waiting to do a radio interview with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski when he learned of the firing of St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli. Then that night, he watched Temple’s Fran Dunphy coach his last game.

“They had a camera shot of him walking into the locker room,” Wright said during his pre-game news conference at XL Center. “It was emotional.

“I was doing coach K’s radio show and I was on hold. The producer said Mike wanted to know if it’s OK if they ask you about Phil. I said, ‘What?’ He said it just came across. They parted ways and I got emotional.

“Philadelphia Big 5 basketball is a brotherhood. You’re like brothers. You want to kill each other just like brothers do if they’re playing in the backyard. But you do everything together. We hang out together at the Final Four. We hang out at the Jersey Shore. We do Coaches vs. Cancer. It’s a sad day.

“The one thing in life that’s a definite is change. It’s going to happen to all of us. It’s just the day that it happens is really sad, a really sad day.”

Fearing the three

It’s no secret that Villanova shoots a lot of three-pointers, 53.5 percent of its total attempts to be exact, and knocks down an average of 10.6 of them per game.

Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett says he has seen teams out West play that style, but added, “Maybe not with the same caliber of players that Villanova is playing with.

“The big part of their deal is they’re going to make you help and kick out and have some really good shooters, and they put five guys out there that shoot the three. I guess their backup center (Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree) is a true center, but that’s the only guy on the team that’s a true center.

“They always put you in a position where you have to decide where you’re going to get help from on the penetration. From there, they’ll find that and play off that and get open threes, or turn it into a second penetration and get another three. So they just kind of wear you down with that game.”

Still, the Gaels are excellent at defending the three. Opponents shoot just 31.8 percent against them, and have averaged 5.4 threes.

Best day ever

Bennett said his team’s 75-68 victory over Villanova in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament “was probably the biggest win in Saint Mary’s program history.

“Everybody remembers it back in California," he said. "It kind of came out of nowhere. We had a special group of guys. We remember it. It’s a historical moment. I’m sure (Wright) thought about it as well, unfortunately.”

The 2010 game was the first thing the Villanova coach mentioned after he saw the Wildcats’ draw during Sunday’s selection show.

Where is everybody?

Thanks to an unusual schedule for the afternoon and evening doubleheaders here, Villanova could be tipping off its game against Saint Mary’s before a near-empty house.

The afternoon games, featuring West Region matchups Florida State-Vermont and Marquette-Murray State, are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The standard time between games is 30 minutes.

If either, or both, contests run long, officials at XL Center will be hard-pressed to clear the early crowd out of the arena, and then admit ticketholders in time for Thursday night’s twin bill, which begins at 7:20 with the Wildcats and the Gaels.