Villanova returned to the basketball court Wednesday night after a seven-day break for final exams, which usually means some sloppy hoops as the players try to get back into the flow of a game.
The top-ranked Wildcats worked off the rust for most of the first half, and pretty much had their way the rest of the night, rolling to a 90-48 victory over American at the Pavilion in their final game before the start of the Big East season next week.
Villanova (12-0) placed five players in double figures, led by 20 from Josh Hart; shot nearly 64 percent from the field after a 3-for-9 start; and outrebounded the Eagles by 38-17 in posting its 18th consecutive victory.
All right, so it didn't start out like a masterpiece. American (3-8) held a one-point lead on three occasions and found itself in a 15-15 tie after back-to-back baskets by Delante Jones.
Hart said the Wildcats' three seniors didn't do a good job of setting the tone early, and they heard it from coach Jay Wright.
"He challenged us," Hart said. "First half, we didn't bring it. The second half, he challenged us again. We had a good talk in the locker room."
"There's no yelling," Wright said. "At halftime, I just said, 'Look, we talked about the difficulty of starting the game like this after being off and we didn't do a good job, so it all starts with you three seniors. When you three seniors take control of this, everyone falls into place.' It's that simple, and they did."
The Wildcats led by 40-29 at halftime and 50-35 with 15 minutes, 38 seconds to play before blowing the game open with a 22-2 run over the next eight minutes when Jalen Brunson scored six of his 14 points. The margin reached 40, 85-45, on a basket by Mikal Bridges with 2:46 left.
Bridges and Eric Paschall added 15 points apiece and Donte DiVincenzo contributed 12. Brunson dished out six assists while Hart and Kris Jenkins shared team-high honors with seven rebounds. The Wildcats shot 71.9 percent (23 of 32) on two-point attempts compared with 8 of 21 (38.1 percent) on threes.
Jones led the Eagles with 12 points and freshman Sa'eed Nelson, who starred at St. Augustine Prep, had 11. American shot 28.6 percent in the second half and 37.3 percent for the game.
After a Christmas break, the Wildcats will return to the gym and begin preparations for their Big East opener Wednesday at home against DePaul. The schedule then gets much tougher, with back-to-back road games at No. 9 Creighton and No. 13 Butler, so the Cats will see the best their conference has to offer very soon.
Wright said he judges his program by what the Wildcats do in the Big East.
"If we're at the top of the Big East, then I think our program is in good shape," he said.
"The season is judged a lot of different ways, but in terms of where our program is . . . it always is where we are amongst our peers. If we're competing for regular-season championships, competing for Big East tournament championships, I'm good. Whatever comes after that, I'll let you guys [reporters] evaluate that. So right now, I'm good."