The minutes are piling up for the members of Villanova's shorthanded basketball team, and the top-ranked Wildcats are still more than two weeks away from the start of the Big East season.
With junior guard Phil Booth sidelined with tendinitis in his left knee, the No. 1 Wildcats (9-0) have used a seven-man rotation and probably will do so again Saturday when they take on fellow unbeaten and No. 23 Notre Dame (9-0) in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Booth will miss his seventh straight game Saturday. In the six games Booth missed, Josh Hart averaged 33.8 minutes; Mikal Bridges, 31.8; Kris Jenkins, 31.5; and Jalen Brunson, 30.7. Hart played 38 minutes and his three teammates each played at least 33 in an 89-79 win over La Salle on Tuesday night at the Palestra.
Villanova coach Jay Wright said he has conducted shorter practices and his players have worked with strength coach John Shackleton on conditioning to keep fresh legs. As for his concern with the extra minutes, Wright said, "It is what it is."
"I feel like we've got to practice that way, and we've got to prepare for games that way, and we've got to play that way," he said Friday after practice at the Pavilion. "I think we're versatile enough. We can keep people fresh. But we've got to play that way. We've got to play with versatility not always having the guys on the floor that we want."
Jenkins, who logged 35 minutes against La Salle, the third time this season he has reached that figure, said that while he and his teammates didn't expect to play so many minutes, they are prepared to do it.
"They do a great job in getting our bodies right, making sure we're in tip-top shape and keeping us fresh," he said. "We just have to be smart about it. Like Coach says, he wants us to be fresh. We're always going to play hard, that's never going to change. But however Coach wants us to play, we're all for it."
Brunson acknowledged that there is a "fatigue factor" but he and his teammates are preparing well for games and finding a way to rest between games.
"When we come back and prepare for the next game, we're really focused mentally, so physically we don't have to wear our bodies out," he said. "Coach does a great job of keeping us off our feet and making sure that we go hard for however long we go."
The Fighting Irish, who used to meet the Wildcats on a regular basis before they moved from the Big East to the ACC, have three players averaging more than 16 points per game. Senior guard Steve Vasturia, who starred at St. Joseph's Prep, scores at a 16.4-point pace while shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from three-point range, and 96.8 percent (30 of 31) from the line.
"I think they're one of the best teams in the country," Wright said. "It's going to be a great battle."