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Villanova too much for Lafayette

The top-seeded Wildcats shut down the Leopards’ three-point shooters and attacked the rim on offense.

Villanova's Dylan Ennis drives to the basket against Lafayette's Seth
Hinrichs (left) and Joey Ptasinski. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Villanova's Dylan Ennis drives to the basket against Lafayette's Seth Hinrichs (left) and Joey Ptasinski. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

PITTSBURGH - Lafayette's only chance was in a game of make it/take it, where they got the ball first. Villanova won the tap, Ryan Arcidiacono set up Dylan Ennis for a three and 11 seconds in, the Leopards were in trouble.

Fran O'Hanlon had a choice to make when he recruited his team - skill or athletes. He was never going to get athletes so he chose skill. His team came into this NCAA Tournament last night at Consol Energy Center ranked 40th in offensive efficiency, 337th in defense, the biggest disparity in the game.

The strategy and math were simple. Lafayette was shooting 41.3 percent from the arc, the nation's second best. So the Wildcats would overplay the arc on one end and attack the rim and the less-athletic defenders at the other.

It was simple and effective. 'Nova's first five scores were a three, a back-door lob, a tip, a tip and a layup. Lafayette's first five possessions included three turnovers.

Villanova's defense allowed some backdoors and drives, but Lafayette did not hit a three for 11 minutes. That make, of course, caused 'Nova coach Jay Wright to go crazy. He needn't have worried.

The final was 93-52 and never in any doubt.

Villanova was really good in the first half, even better to start the second. After 31 minutes, 'Nova had 84 points on 50 possessions, an insane 1.68 points per possession.

The ball movement, the player movement, the way all the open offensive spaces are filled with the ball on a string to an awaiting shooter is a joy to a purist, a basketball symphony. And O'Hanlon, the 1970 Villanova grad, is every bit the purist.

"They have all those shooters," O'Hanlon said. "All those guys are almost like point guards. They get into a gap, you help in . . . And they defend."

Lafayette made 257 threes during the season. Villanova not only made threes; they defended the three. Over 34 games, the Wildcats had outscored their opponents by 360 points from the arc and another 185 from the foul line, an absurd 545 points from the two lines, 16 per game. That is way too much to overcome, and 33 opponents could not overcome it. The two that did (Seton Hall and Georgetown) got crushed by a combined 42 points in the rematches.

'Nova outscored Lafayette from the lines, 43-18. When Kris Jenkins makes two more threes, Wright will have five players with 50 or more, a dilemma for any coach who might be drawing up a scouting report.

This was 'Nova's 27th double-digit win, its program-record 16th straight win overall. The really good teams don't win a lot of close games because they are not in many close games. Villanova's last loss was on Martin Luther King Day at Georgetown, exactly 2 months to the day.

Villanova beat Lafayette in last season's opener, 75-59. They trailed in the second half. That was not good news for this Leopards team. Villanova had its full attention.

"That gave us an advantage because our guys had great respect for them," Wright said. "I don't think that happens in many 1-16 games. We had no problem getting them prepared . . . They torched us for 11 threes last time."

O'Hanlon would much rather have played a team that had never seen his and certainly not played them.

"It was a huge disadvantage that we have to play a team that's very familiar with the Patriot League and very familiar with us and doesn't want us getting off to a good start," he said. "We're not sneaking up on them. The only way you can have an upset is if somebody is not familiar with the lower seed."

Lafayette had to play from ahead to have any chance. They were never ahead.

"We had to make some shots early to even be hanging around and they weren't going to let that happen," O'Hanlon said.

Villanova was very good last season. This season?

"They got a million times better," said Lafayette's Joey Ptasinski. "They're the No. 2 team in the country. They just have everything, great defensively. Offensively, they're shooting the ball extremely well. They're super athletic, ridiculously good in every single aspect of the game. They have no weaknesses."

Ptasinski said Patriot League teams tried to run them off the three-point line too, and then he laughed.

"The Patriot League pressure defense is a little different than the Big East pressure defense," he said. "By the time we adjusted, we were down 20."

The Leopards lost at West Virginia, 83-56, on Nov. 16. WVU has the country's best pressure defense. When it was suggested 'Nova was West Virginia with shooters, Ptasinski agreed.

Has Wright ever had a team play this well for this long a period?

"Probably not," he said. "It's a unique combination. I hope we can ride it."

The NCAA games likely will start to get more difficult, but maybe not. Perhaps this team is just so good that it will keep crushing people. We will know more tomorrow. For now, Villanova rolls on, a giant, unrelenting wave crashing into anything in its path, heading for shore.