WHEN MOST of your players have been on teams that have won 60 of their last 68 games, nothing much is going to bother them, not even when Saint Joseph's, playing in its own gym and making a run from 15 down early in the second half to five, was playing about as well it can play.
This Villanova group plays the game, not the score. After making a ridiculous 10 of their first 21 threes, the Wildcats made only one of their last 10. But it was that one by Ryan Arcidiacono that announced that there was going to be no upset Tuesday night at Hagan Arena. The Hawks hung around a while longer, actually making 15 of 24 shots in one long stretch against America's most efficient defensive team.
But Villanova was just scoring too easily and in too many ways. The Hawks were not going to be able to match the eighth-ranked Wildcats basket for basket over 40 minutes. It was 86-72 after an entertaining 40 that took 110 in real time, ending with the expected result, the 11th straight Big 5 win for Jay Wright's team.
"That's a good win for our team," Wright said. "That's a good St. Joe team, really good St. Joe team . . . We really try to turn people over and they handled it extremely well."
Villanova (7-0, 1-0 Big 5) shot exactly 50 percent for the game, getting 18 points and nine rebounds from Josh Hart and 17 points from always steady point guard Arcidiacono. The Arch and Hart show is long-running, with no signs of shutting down anytime soon.
"It's always crazy, it's a great environment," said Arcidiacono, who will be making final road stops all season. "They're a really good team . . . I'm definitely going to miss it. It was fun, a great game, intense."
The 'Cats got 18 from Kris Jenkins who was a hard cover near the rim and by the three-point line. Mikal Bridges was terrific off the bench with 11, including a flying baseline dunk off a great pass from Arch. Villanova was in control most of the way despite big man Daniel Ochefu getting two fouls in the opening minutes and three so early that he was able to play just 17 minutes.
The game was so well played that the teams combined for 37 assists and only 15 turnovers.
"All credit goes to Villanova," SJU coach Phil Martelli said. "They just had a way of kind of finding out where the hole was, where the weakness was and they exploited it. Those guys dribbled the ball where they wanted to dribble. Retrospectively now, looking at our team, we're going to have to become more aggressive defensively."
These Wildcats are hard to play with too much aggression because they are so good at making the extra pass and sometimes the extra, extra pass. You start chasing the ball and the ball starts to move quicker than you can chase.
The Hawks (4-2, 0-1) got five players in double figures. DeAndré Bembry had 17. Point guard Shavar Newkirk played a brilliant game with 13 points, nine assists and no turnovers against the 'Nova pressure.
The game within the game was Bembry vs. Hart, the two best forwards in the city. They weren't on each other all the time, but they were matched up often.
"It's always good playing against DeAndré," Hart said. "We played against each in AAU . . . He's very competitive and so am I. Whenever we go against each other, it's always a battle, but I definitely love it."
None of these Hawks players has beaten Villanova and none of these Wildcats have lost to the Hawks. This, however, was more competitive than the last two years.
"We felt confident we were going to come back and win, but they just came down and did what they normally do," Bembry said, a wry smile on his face. "They're the best team I've played if you give them any momentum."
SJU scored 19 more points than 'Nova had been giving up on average, but the early arc barrage was just too much to overcome. Going back to the second half on Hawk Hill two years ago, Villanova actually made 19 of 33 threes over 40 minutes in the building before finally cooling off.
Half of Villanova's shots this season have been from the arc. It is the way they play. And it has been working for years now. They outscored the Hawks by 15 points from three and won by 14. This is not a coincidence.
"Today was a chance," Martelli said. "There was a canvas in front of us and we were going to paint this picture for today and the picture's not pretty enough."
Truth be told, St. Joe's played pretty well for long stretches of the game. They just happened to be in against a team with superior forces that does one significant basketball task extremely well - win.