UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Jay Wright called it a "very emotional" return Friday night to Long Island to play Hofstra, the team that he coached for seven seasons before becoming the head coach at Villanova.
"I spoke to the Hofstra alumni before the game, and I would never do that anywhere," Wright said after his top-ranked Wildcats remained unbeaten with a 95-71 victory over the Pride at Nassau Coliseum.
"It was important to do that. I appreciate everything they did for me and (wife) Patty. I told these (players) a few days ago that I'm messed up in this one. We're usually focused and I tried to be. I appreciate them staying focused. I don't know if I was at the top of my game but they did a great job."
The Wildcats (12-0) dealt with the changing defenses and up-tempo attack of the Pride (7-5) with a balanced offense and a defense that grabbed control of the game over a 10-minute span of the first half when they outscored Hofstra 27-8, holding their opponent to 2-of-10 shooting with seven turnovers.
Villanova shot 51 percent in the first half with eight three-point baskets in taking a 52-31 lead and coasted home. The Cats finished the game with 16 threes and turned the ball over just seven times while dishing out 21 assists on 34 field goals.
Wright said his guys have been watching other scores this week, and liked the fact they took the game as seriously as any other.
"Our guys know this, we've seen all these upsets," he said. "(Hofstra) is the kind of team that can do it. They've got great guards and the other players play their roles. It's exactly what Wofford did at North Carolina. Their guards can get hot and get to you. Our guys understand that, they're smart, they respect them."
The Pride's Justin Wright-Foreman led all scorers with 25 points, but the Wildcats countered with five players in double figures led by Mikal Bridges with 20 points. Omari Spellman went for 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Phil Booth added 17, Donte DiVincenzo 16 and Jalen Brunson 14 with seven assists.
Booth had the game's most memorable basket, a 25-foot three-pointer at the first-half buzzer off an inbounds pass by DiVincenzo, which the Wildcats pulled off in the final 1.2 seconds for a 21-point lead. Hofstra got no closer than 18 in the second half.
This was the first matchup of Hofstra and Villanova since December 1997, when Wright was coaching the Pride. He saw his best player from that era, Speedy Claxton, on the opposing bench coaching on the staff of former La Salle player and assistant coach Joe Mihalich.
"Before the game I told him, 'I wish you were still on my team,' " Wright said. "After I said, 'I love you. Merry Christmas.' "
The Wildcats begin Big East play on Wednesday night at DePaul.