Villanova completed the NBA portion of its schedule on Wednesday night. The description doesn't refer to the caliber of the opponent, but very much to the fact that the Wildcats just finished a stretch of six games in 13 days.
The effects of the heavy slate may have showed against the College of Charleston. The second-ranked Wildcats were not fully energized but had enough in the tank to defeat the Cougars, 63-47, at the Pavilion to extend their record to 6-0.
With starting guard Phil Booth out for the third consecutive game with inflammation in his left knee, the Wildcats went for much of the game with a seven-man rotation. Josh Hart, who had averaged more than 32 minutes entering the game, logged 35 more against Charleston and posted team highs of 13 points and 11 rebounds.
It has been rare in previous seasons where coach Jay Wright played any of his starters for more than 30 minutes in the non-conference schedule. He's had to go to Hart for major minutes this season, but his 6-foot-5 national player of the year candidate shook his head when Wright was asked about playing his starters for too long.
"However many minutes I play, I'm going to play the best I can, as hard as I can," Hart said. "So I'm not really worried about minutes. I'd love to play the whole game if Coach would let me. That's just my competitive nature. I always want to be out there, so I'm never worried about it."
Wright said that with five days off before the Wildcats' next game, their City Series opener Tuesday night against Penn at the Palestra, he thinks Booth might be able to come back or "if not, the game after that."
He said he felt the Wildcats held up pretty well over their busy stretch, especially three games in four days last weekend at the Charleston Classic. But he said he did not know "if we were mentally prepared for this many games back to back.
"Maybe in this one we didn't come with great energy," he said. "We've got to learn that, how to bring it every night. That's just something this team is going to have to learn."
There seemed to be some good energy at the start. The Wildcats led by as many as 16 when Kris Jenkins, who sat out the first 3 minutes, 7 seconds for missing a class, capped an 8-0 run with a three-pointer to give 'Nova a 30-14 lead with 5:05 to play in the first half.
Villanova's 35-21 halftime lead was fueled by 50 percent shooting. The Wildcats upped their margin to 22 midway through the second half but then went about nine minutes without a field goal. Still, their margin never dipped below 14 even though they shot less than 37 percent from the floor in the final period.
"They're a good team and I give them a lot of credit," Wright said.
The Cats did the job defensively, at least on the stat sheet. The Cougars shot 35.2 percent for the game and made just 4 of 22 three-point tries. But Wright's expression turned sour when asked about the defense, calling it "average."
"We can create a lot of offense off of our defense and we didn't do that," he said. "That's why I thought College of Charleston did a great job. They controlled the tempo of the game. When we trapped, pressed, we really didn't bother them."
The Wildcats now have an extended break, and actually won't return to the practice court until Saturday. In the meantime, Hart will try to get along without a game to be played.
"I'm very competitive and that's just how I am," he said. "I would love to play a game and obviously we're not, but we have to approach practice every day like it's a game. Like Coach said, we've got to come like the veterans that we are and handle each day in practice and go from there."