NEW YORK - Villanova knew it would be a bare-knuckle, physical style of game against Texas last night, but the Wildcats probably didn't know how difficult it would be for them to get into any kind of offensive rhythm.
The 15th-ranked Wildcats struggled mightily to make shots, and their defense wasn't consistent enough to pull them through. The sixth-ranked Longhorns, behind 26 points from lightning-quick guard A.J. Abrams, picked up a 67-58 victory in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
This was the first time the Wildcats (8-1) played a team ranked in the top 25 this season, and it would be easy to say that their level of competition before last night did not prepare them for what they experienced.
Then again, there aren't many teams in the nation that can play defense like the Longhorns (7-1), who held their seventh opponent below 40 percent shooting this season. They are 2-1 against top-25 teams.
Still, Villanova coach Jay Wright felt his team was defeated soundly.
"Their defensive toughness, their aggressiveness on the glass, they're ahead of us obviously in those areas," Wright said. "They did a great job of coming up with big offensive rebounds and big stops defensively.
"They really pressured our guards well. They did as good a job on our guards as anybody that I can remember."
Scottie Reynolds, usually the cog that makes the Wildcats go, could never get untracked against point guard Justin Mason and a host of his backcourt teammates. Reynolds had just seven shots from the field, making two, and scored only 10 points.
"I think it was more of their team defense than one person," Reynolds said. "They do a great job of playing good team defense.
"Sometimes they put two or three guys on me trying to get the ball out of my hands, trying to frustrate me. But we go through this every day in practice. You've just got to play through it and not get frustrated. I never got frustrated."
Dante Cunningham was the lone bright spot offensively for Villanova, sinking 9 of 14 shots from the field en route to 23 points, and pulling down 12 rebounds. But the rest of the team shot poorly, and the Cats as a team hit 38.0 percent from the floor and committed 19 turnovers.
Texas shot 41.7 percent from the field, but Wright felt his defense was inconsistent.
"I thought there were some times where we made substitutions that we just lost our intensity," he said. "I thought sometimes when we played too small, we didn't play with enough toughness. And we didn't rebound well enough against a team that's just very good at that."
The Longhorns won the battle of the boards, but only by 39-36.
The Wildcats were plagued throughout by offensive droughts. They had a stretch of nearly nine minutes spanning the first and second halves during which they scored just five points. Another dry spell of nearly four minutes without a basket took place later in the second half.
The Wildcats trailed by six at the half and by five, 39-34, with 14 minutes, 42 seconds remaining. They succeeded in holding Texas down on the offensive end, limiting the Longhorns to one basket over a five-minute period, but couldn't get any closer than three.
Then Abrams, who wears No. 3 on his jersey because of his admiration for Allen Iverson, went to work. He converted a three-point play, then knocked down a three-ball that gave Texas its biggest lead to that point, 57-47, with 5:27 remaining.
Damion James, who chipped in with 16 for the Longhorns, added a layup and a trey in helping Texas gain its double-digit lead.
The Wildcats received a tremendous lift from senior Dwayne Anderson, who saw his first significant action of the season since returning from a stress fracture in his left foot. Anderson played 20 minutes and contributed four points and nine rebounds.
For Wright, though, it's a matter of the Wildcats having "a lot of work to do" with only four games to go before the start of the Big East season.
"We need to play in these games and we will," he said. "We'll play against these types of physical defenses and be able to take care of the basketball and make plays. We've got to rebound better as a team. But we can be a good team."
Single-game tickets for Villanova's men's basketball games at the Wachovia Center and Wachovia Spectrum will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.
Villanova hosts No. 3 Pittsburgh at the Spectrum on Wednesday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.
The Wildcats will host three other currently ranked Big East foes - Louisville on Jan. 10 , Syracuse on Feb. 7, and Georgetown on Feb. 28 - at the Wachovia Center. Those three Saturday games are scheduled for noon. Single-game tickets are priced at $25 and $35, or a "four pack" priced at $100.
All tickets are available on the ComcastTIX.com, by phone at 1-800-298-4200, in person at the Wachovia complex box office, and also at select Acme supermarkets. EndText