FOR 20 MINUTES last night at the Wells Fargo Center, things were fairly unwatchable.
That's what can happen when, as Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright puts it, "Almost every guy on this team is a work in progress." It doesn't figure to be the last time he reminds us, or them, of that reality.
Fortunately, the rules insist that you play the full 40. And the Wildcats, losers of four of their previous five, figured out a way to do what they were supposed to against a Boston University team that was making the second of three trips to Philadelphia in a 3-week span for first-year coach Joe Jones, Wright's onetime assistant on the Main Line who took over at BU when another former Wildcats staffer, Pat Chambers, moved on to Penn State.
The final was 68-43, which seemed almost impossible at halftime, when BU led, 26-23. But Villanova (6-4), which missed its last 16 shots before intermission, went 19-for-34 thereafter. It does make a difference. At the same time, the Terriers (4-7) were going through a 7-for-30 (1-for-14 from the arc) drought. And an upset bid turned into the anticipated mismatch.
Still . . .
"We'll take it," said Wright, whose team now heads to the Saint Joseph's campus Saturday for the first time ever. "I'm pleased with this. We practiced hard the last 2 days [following an 11-point loss at Temple Saturday], and I thought we'd have a little heavy legs. As you can see, we have a lot of work to do. It's not going to be pretty. But we weren't making shots and we kept playing defense. That's a key for us."
Wright started freshmen Achraf Yacoubou and Ty Johnson, just to "shake things up a little bit." But it didn't take long for Dominic Cheek and James Bell to get on the court. It just took a while for them to get going. But Cheek finished with 14 points, 11 in 11 second-half minutes, to go with seven rebounds. Bell had nine and seven in his 21 minutes. Mouphtaou Yarou had 13 of each, and he accumulated most of them by the break. Hey, somebody had to.
"We're a young team, we're just learning," said Cheek, one of three junior starters. "After the last game, we just watched the film to break down the little things we have to work on."
BU got 11 points from sophomore D.J. Irving (Archbishop Carroll), one of seven players with Philly connections on the roster. But senior Darryl Partin, a transfer from La Salle, managed only six, nearly 17 below his average, on 2-for-15 shooting.
"I'm really proud of that," Wright said. "We tried to keep fresh bodies on him."
BU had six offensive boards, all in the second half. Temple had 17 of them against 'Nova.
"This is just what we needed," said Maalik Wayns, who needed 14 shots to get his 10 points. "We couldn't put a rock in the ocean, but we got stops and some easy baskets. We're not going to worry about missed shots. A big part of the program is attitude. We have to grind and grind."
Reserve big man Maurice Sutton (dislocated thumb), one of the 'Cats' better defenders, missed his fourth straight game but at least suited up. And Darrun Hilliard, who might be the best of their five first-year guys right now, hadn't practiced because of a foot infection. But all teams must deal with physical issues at some point. Everyone realized that, after a 7-year run that included a Final Four, Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s, this was supposed to be more of a transitionary mode. How the Wildcats deal with that is the bigger question.
"We talk about that a lot," Wright said. "We're not afraid to be 6-4, or 6-5. It's all about how we handle it. If this were the NBA, I'd be really scared. That's what's great about college basketball. That's all part of it. We know how it appears.
"Don't forget I've lost plenty of games at Villanova. I like how we're handling it. Nobody was frustrated at halftime. They believed we'd start making shots, and defense would pull us through. This doesn't make us world-beaters. I can't predict where we're going to be. We're going to try to get good really fast. We're not going to be patient. But we have to be smart about it."