After Villanova's second straight game in which it scored 100-plus points, coach Jay Wright sounded as if he desperately wanted a holiday gift from his young Wildcats - better defense.
The Wildcats played about 30 minutes of indifferent defense before finally exploding for a 12-0 run sparked by the play of reserve Dwayne Anderson at both ends of the court, and rolled to a 103-75 victory over plucky Hartford last night at the Pavilion.
Hey, all the points looked nice, and the 23d-ranked Wildcats (8-1) placed five men in double figures, led by Scottie Reynolds with 21 points. They hit 15 three-point baskets, two off the school record. They shot a season-best 56.3 percent from the field.
But their defense, combined with effective offense and a tight zone defense by the Hawks (5-7), coached by former Temple assistant Dan Leibovitz, kept the visitors in the game. Hartford trailed by three points at the half and by three with 9 minutes, 57 seconds to play before the Wildcats broke out.
"That's where we are," Wright said. "We have to get better defensively. It's not that they don't have the ability. They have the ability. It's just that when we get the lead, we think we've got it. We make a couple of good defensive stops and they take a couple of possessions off. But that's what young teams do. We just have to teach them. We have to stick with them."
Reynolds knows what it's all about. He said defensive improvement comes with experience and knowing the system, but it's a major transition for players who scored a lot in high school.
"I played no defense in high school," the sophomore guard said. "I thought defense was just steals and going the other way for baskets. That's not at all what defense is. It's five guys playing ball."
The guy who really played ball for the Wildcats was Anderson, a 6-foot-6 junior who played only 18 minutes in four games before last night.
When he entered with 11:28 to play, the game was still close. Warren McLendon, who would finish with 19 points and eight rebounds, sank a pair of free throws and a basket, and Hartford trailed by just 66-63 before Villanova went on its game-changing run.
Freshman Corey Fisher hit a three-point basket. Anderson then stole the ball and went in for a layup off a pretty pass from Fisher on a two-on-one break.
After a layup by Shane Clark, Anderson scored a basket inside and got another steal at the defensive end, which Reynolds converted into a conventional three-point play to end the 12-0 spurt and give the Wildcats a 78-63 lead with 7:57 remaining.
"In practice, we go over certain places we have to be on the court, and Coach is always talking to me, saying, 'Be ready, be ready,' " said Anderson, who had eight points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in just 11 minutes. "He called my name and I took advantage of it."
Villanova hit five consecutive shots in the run and ran that streak to seven before missing. After the miss, the Wildcats knocked down four in a row as the lead kept growing. Reggie Redding's three-point play with 2:20 left got them to 100 points.
Counting Villanova's 101-93 win over Temple on Sunday, it marked the first time since the 1969-70 season that the Wildcats had back-to-back 100-point games.
"They just wore us out," Leibovitz said. "I thought we were pretty disruptive defensively in the first half. Maybe they were just not making the same shots they made in the second half. It's just too much Scottie Reynolds. When he gets going, he's a special player."
After just a two-shot, four-point first half, Reynolds came out looking to the basket more in the second half. He sank four three-pointers in the opening seven minutes of the half and scored 17 points in the final 20 minutes.
"I think me and Coach have a pretty good understanding of once a half is done, you go play another half," Reynolds said. "If it's a bad half and it's not going your way, you've got to come back the next half."
Fisher added 18 points and Clark 16 for the Wildcats, who also got a career high of 13 rebounds and 13 points from Dante Cunningham. Joe Zeglinski, an Archbishop Ryan graduate, led the Hawks with 20 points, 15 of them in the first half.
Villanova played without Casiem Drummond, a 6-10 center who missed the game with tendinitis in his right foot.