Villanova found itself in a Big Five game against Penn on Monday night that provided the 16th-ranked Wildcats with some valuable lessons as they enter Big East play later this week.
You wouldn't think that such a lopsided first-half score - the Cats held a 30-3 lead at one point en route to a 77-57 victory at the Pavilion - would have prepared the home team too well for an eagerly anticipated conference opener Thursday against No. 6 Xavier.
But Jay Wright said Villanova (10-2, 3-0 Big Five) did get a lot out of it, particularly the way the Quakers (5-7, 1-2) defended the three-point shot. Averaging 9.8 three-point baskets entering the game, the Wildcats were limited to just one try against Penn.
"There are certain teams in the league that play us that way," Wright said. "We said at halftime, 'This is a really good challenge for us in our decision-making when teams are taking away threes.' If you're going to take away threes, you can't run offense but you have to be able to drive the ball. You've got to be able to get to the foul line."
The Wildcats did get to the line, shooting 41 times, but were inconsistent. They sank just 12 of their first 25 attempts but finished making 14 of their last 16.
"I think we're a better free-throw shooting team than that," Wright said, "so I'm not as concerned about making free throws as I am happy that we got to the foul line."
Penn coach Steve Donahue said the game plan was not only to limit Villanova's threes but also limit assists. The Wildcats had just 10, two in the second half.
"We followed the game plan," he said. "Our thing was, limit their threes and their assisted baskets. They were 1 for 11 from 3. I thought if we held them to 25 two-point baskets, which we did, we'd have a chance to win the game. But they shot 41 foul shots."
Villanova played outstanding defense in the first half and Penn couldn't make a shot. The Quakers had just one basket - a three-pointer by Sam Jones - on their first 16 shots over the opening 14 minutes and the Wildcats, who started with a 14-0 rush, were up 30-3.
"We came out very tentative," said freshman guard Jackson Donahue (no relation to the coach), who led Penn with 18 points, all in the second half. "We were passing up the good shots and taking the hard ones. In the second half, we came out aggressive and that got us going."
The halftime score was 39-11. In the second half, Wright decided to play more zone but wasn't exactly thrilled with how his team played it. Penn shot 55 percent in the second half and knocked down six threes.
"We want to be a better zone team but we didn't do a good job," he said. "They did a great job attacking it."
Freshman Jalen Brunson led Villanova with 22 points and five assists. Daniel Ochefu contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds and knocked down a pair of face-up 17-footers early in the game. Ochefu said the game was "definitely a very good tune-up" for the Cats' Big East opener.
"Penn is a very disciplined, well-coached team and they play tough and hard, and Xavier is the same way," he said.