The scoring statistics of Villanova's three regular bench players this season may not be that impressive, but the numbers don't really reflect what coach Jay Wright demands of his reserves.
While sophomore guard Phil Booth, redshirt freshman swingman Mikal Bridges and junior center Darryl Reynolds can score, it's their contribution at the defensive end and under the boards that gives the Wildcats an edge when the starters are resting.
The 6-foot-3 Booth has no fear settling among big men inside to compete for a rebound. Bridges, who was known for his scoring at Great Valley High School, became a defensive stopper, guarding the likes of Providence's Kris Dunn and Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead.
The 6-8 Reynolds, who had averaged just 4.4 minutes in 48 games during his first two seasons, surprised with his defense and shot-blocking, particularly in the six games he started when Daniel Ochefu was injured.
So even though the three players averaged 14.4 points per game combined this season when coming off the bench, their all-around game helped the Wildcats enter the NCAA tournament this week with a 29-5 record, the Big East regular-season championship and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA South Regional.
"They've been huge," senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. "They were huge this past weekend [at the Big East tournament]. Even though we weren't able to win the championship, I think we had a solid weekend from those guys.
"Mikal defended Whitehead pretty tough and Phil rebounded his butt off. When Daniel was hurt, Darryl played well. He came in with 19 points and 10 rebounds against Providence [on Feb. 6]. They've just been huge for us. They bring energy off the bench and increase our energy on the court to a whole new level."
Booth, who could be starting for a lot of teams, said that a big part of the program is defending and rebounding and that he and his bench buddies are all in.
"This is a great team," he said. "Guys are filling the positions. We know that everybody on the floor can make plays. It doesn't matter who's in the game as long as we come out on top. It doesn't matter to me, Darryl or Mikal that we're coming off the bench."
The long-armed, 6-7 Bridges redshirted last season because of the Wildcats' numbers at the wing position and a need to put some muscle on his skinny 190-pound frame. He has become a stopper this season with 24 blocked shots (second on the team) and 34 steals (third) despite playing just 20 minutes per game.
He now admits his year off, as tough as it was, provided major benefits to him this season.
"The most important thing was experience because I had been here a year, so when I started playing, I was kind of more than the average freshman," Bridges said. "I knew a lot of things already. Watching film and learning how Coach wants you to play gave me an advantage. Working on strength and conditioning was another big plus."
Wright said Bridges' presence will be important in the NCAA tournament, which starts for Villanova on Friday in Brooklyn against UNC-Asheville.
"He becomes far more important at this time of year because you play a lot of bigger teams," he said. "He'll be a lot more valuable in the NCAA tournament. He's a confident kid."
Reynolds averaged 22.7 minutes in three Big East tournament games, starting two while Ochefu was hobbled with a sprained right ankle that limited his minutes. He shot 72.7 percent from the floor and averaged 5.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.