It's the most wonderful time of the year for Villanova. Christmas is coming, the Wildcats are undefeated and ranked eighth in the country, and they have a big-time nationally televised showdown with No. 2 Syracuse coming up next weekend.
Or as Jay Wright would suggest, it could all be a recipe for disaster.
That's why the 'Nova coach was so happy to see his players staying focused on Rider on Saturday and taking care of business to the tune of an 88-67 victory before a festive sellout crowd at the Pavilion.
The Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field, knocked down 10 three-point baskets, and got a career-high 19 points from freshman Josh Hart to start a season 11-0 for the first time since 1961-62. They led the Broncs (5-5) by as many as 27 points in the second half.
"We try to talk about the next game," Wright said. "That's what was really difficult with this game, because people are asking about Syracuse. It's natural. As coaches you know we've all been in these games. You know [Rider] is the kind of team that can beat you just because they're talented enough and they have great guards that can control tempo.
"I don't think rankings bother [our players]. I think sometimes when you have a big game like that coming up and it's Christmas break, that's what gets to them. So I was very proud of them being prepared for this game."
Junior Darrun Hilliard, who contributed 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds, has been around long enough to know that an absence of concentration against any opponent can mean trouble.
"We know we've been there before, and on any given night you can get beat," he said. "We saw that last year with Columbia and the year before when we were 13-19. It's just a tribute to our experience. We're going to let the coaches keep pushing us, and we're not going to take a step back."
The Wildcats shot 54 percent in the first half and outscored the Broncs by 16-7 in the final 41/2 minutes to take a 43-29 lead at the break. The 6-foot-5 Hart then went to work, scoring 14 points in the second half, including a three-pointer that put Villanova in front by 77-50 with 5 minutes, 43 seconds remaining.
The Broncs, who are coached by former St. Joseph's guard Kevin Baggett, were led by Anthony Myles with 22 points. Daniel Stewart, a former star at Neumann-Goretti, added 13 points and six rebounds.