Throughout the first half of last night's game, Villanova coach Jay Wright paced the sideline quietly, looking as if he were trying to find a reason to yell at one of his players.
The 20th-ranked Wildcats didn't cooperate. They locked up the Monmouth offense and controlled the boards. When the halftime buzzer sounded, they led by 32 points and Wright said, "It was our best half of the year on defense."
The second half wasn't as crisp, and Wright found reasons to yell, because Villanova let up a bit and the Hawks played better offensively. But the result was a 71-48 win for the 'Cats at the Pavilion in a preliminary-round game of the Philly Hoop Group Classic.
The Wildcats (4-0), who were led by Dante Cunningham with 19 points and Corey Stokes with 18, led by 45-13 at halftime and scored the first five points of the second half to go up by 37.
Then Monmouth (0-5), which is without Whitney Coleman, its top returning scorer, for the remainder of the season with a knee injury, began playing better and picked up a mini-victory by outscoring the 'Cats, 35-21 the rest of the way.
"I thought we played a great first half," Wright said. "I felt we really paid attention to detail. I would have liked to have seen us come out in the second half and be able to keep our concentration longer, but that's a challenge for a really good team, and I don't think we're a really good team yet."
As the Wildcats' lead continued to increase, the concern for Wright was having enough players to give his regulars a rest. Dwayne Anderson is out with a stress fracture in his left foot, so the Wildcats have just a seven-man rotation, with three other subs deep down the bench.
The rotation was reduced by one last night because junior center Casiem Drummond was serving a one-game suspension for what Wright called a minor disciplinary issue. Drummond was not on the bench.
"It's nothing major at all," Wright said. "It's just a little disciplinary action in our program. It's a privilege to be part of the team at game time. So if you make a little mistake, that's what we do, take the privilege away. He'll be back at practice tomorrow."
Actually, Monmouth started the game by taking leads of 3-0 and 5-3, converting on two of its first three possessions. But the Hawks, who lost point guard James Hett midway through the first half with an ankle injury, were only 3 of 18 from the field the remainder of the half.
After trailing early, the Wildcats outscored the visitors, 42-8, the rest of the half. They went up by 20 with 6 minutes, 6 seconds left in the half and by 30 with 1:22 to play. The Hawks went 11 minutes between field goals at one point.
But as Wright said, the Wildcats couldn't hold their concentration. Stokes, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, went 4 of 5 from behind the three-point arc in the first half but hit only 1 of 6 in the second half.
"Coach Wright always talks about playing 40 minutes of Villanova basketball," said Stokes, a sophomore. "We just have to keep pushing and working hard and trying to do that every day."
The Hawks left the Pavilion 0-33 in games against Big East opponents.