Villanova begins NCAA Tournament run by crushing Lafayette


Villanova begins NCAA Tournament run by crushing Lafayette


PITTSBURGH — It was a classic matchup between one of the hottest-shooting teams in the country and a team that prides itself on extraordinary defense.

Extraordinary defense won by 41.

Villanova opened the 2015 NCAA Tournament by demolishing Lafayette, 93-52, Thursday night in an Eastern Regional game at CONSOL Energy Center (see Instant Replay).

Lafayette, No. 2 in Division I with 41 percent accuracy from three-point range, was hounded into 4 for 18 shooting from deep Thursday.

The 41-point margin of victory was Villanova's second-biggest ever in an NCAA tournament game. The 1971 team beat Penn by 43.

“I think we set the tone defensively,” junior guard Dylan Ennis said. “We know that’s what they do — they shoot threes and outscore teams, and we pride ourselves on our defense, so it was going to be our defense against their three-point shooting, and I think we did a great job focusing on their shooters and making sure they didn’t get hot.”

Ennis led a typically balanced Villanova attack with 16 points and added five assists, and Daniel Ochefu contributed 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

All eight players in head coach Jay Wright’s rotation scored between seven and 16 points.

But this game was all about Villanova’s ferocious defense. Lafayette’s 22 percent shooting from deep matched the Leopards’ second-worst effort this year. They were 1 for 9 (11 percent) vs. Army.

“It was great just coming out and imposing our defense and taking the game over defensively,” said Darrun Hilliard, who had 12 points, three assists and three steals. “It was a great game for us defensively.

“We knew they were a phenomenal three-point shooting team, one of the best in the country and they were going to come in and put threes up. We wanted to run them off the three-point line and make them put it on the floor, and I think we did a great job of that.”

With the win, Villanova earned a game Saturday against North Carolina State, who rallied for a 66-65 victory over LSU later on Thursday. The winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Syracuse.

“I think playing the No. 2 team in the nation, we were a little nervous,” Lafayette senior Seth Hinrichs said. “But we just didn't execute to come out to start. We knew we had to get off to a good start, and we didn't do that tonight. So credit them. They're a really good defensive team and they got us out of rhythm.”

Villanova was up 13-4 after five minutes and 34-13 after 14 minutes. Lafayette got within 14 at 38-24 late in the first half, but Villanova closed the half on an 11-2 run and then opened the second half on a 24-8 run.

The Wildcats led by as many as 45 points before the subs went in.

“It's hard to come back against them,” said Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon, who played at Villanova in the 1970s.

“They handle the ball so well. We knew coming in here how well they handle the ball. It’s not like we could pressure them or trap them. They just move it too well. We were hoping we would play good, solid defense, try to switch a little bit, maybe not give up as many threes. Then we didn't score. They turned us over and just the plan didn't work.”

As cold as Lafayette was, Villanova was electrifying on offense. The Wildcats made 11 of 22 threes and shot 63 percent overall from the field.

Ryan Arcidiacono shot his way out of a recent slump by burying 3 of 4 threes and adding six assists, Ennis was 3 for 6 and freshman Phil Booth made both of his shots from deep.

JayVaughn Pinkston (12 points, six boards), Kris Jenkins (10 points), Josh Hart (seven points, eight rebounds, four assists) and Booth (nine points) all had their moments.

“On the scouting report, usually I'm going to circle the really good shooters on the other team, and you get two or three that you circle,” O’Hanlon said.

“When we were doing the scouting report on Villanova, I circled two that don't shoot threes. These are the two we don't have to worry about shooting threes. And you can guess it was Pinkston and Ochefu. All the other guys really shoot the ball.”

Villanova is now 33-2, and the 33 wins are the most ever by a Philadelphia team. Temple won 32 in 1987 and 1988.

A win Saturday sends the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.

“It’s a great feeling to put up that many points and do it the right way,” Hilliard said. “No guy stood out with 30 points or anything. It was all spread out.”

Villanova has now won games by 26, 28, 35, 37 and 41 points in the last month.

“A lot of people were saying we set the tone for the tournament, but we’re not thinking like that,” Ennis said. “Just focusing on tonight. It was a good way to start.”

Sports Uncovered Podcast: How to listen to episode on Oregon football's uniform revolution

NBC Sports

Sports Uncovered Podcast: How to listen to episode on Oregon football's uniform revolution

Forget about Chip Kelly for a second: When you think of the University of Oregon, you probably think of their uniforms.

Each season, the Ducks push jersey and helmet designs to new heights, and their trailblazing influence has trickled down throughout college athletics. It all started in the 1990s, when Oregon decided to get crazy - and it worked.

In the second episode of NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered" podcast series, NBC Sports Northwest takes a deep dive into how Oregon sparked a fashion transformation across college football with a mascot change, and with unique Nike uniforms that helped push the program into the national college football coversation.

The episode features in-depth interviews with former Oregon football head coach Mike Bellotti, former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, and more.

The episode releases Thursday, June 11. You can listen to this episode and the entire "Sports Uncovered" series by subscribing for free wherever you listen to podcasts.

To catch every episode, be sure to subscribe to "Sports Uncovered" and have every episode automatically downloaded to your phone. Sports Uncovered is available on the MyTeams app and on every major podcasting platform: Apple, Google Podcast, iHeart, Stitcher, Spotify, and TuneIn

Listen and subscribe to the "Sports Uncovered" podcast:

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

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Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

It's been 12 days since Villanova's season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus crisis. Jay Wright held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics. 

Here are the major takeaways from Wright's session with the media.  

This March is different

Villanova missed out on opportunities to win a fourth straight Big East Tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats won eight of their final nine games to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title. Not having a chance to shine in the postseason stings. 

"Missing the NCAA Tournament is obviously tough for our guys," Wright said. "We felt like we were playing great basketball, coming on strong. I always say we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think we were doing that. It is what it is, our guys get it. 

"It's a great example of our mantra 'attitude'. We try to teach our guys that you don't have control over what happens in life. What you do have control of is your response to what happens to you. 

"I don't know if there's even been a March where I wasn't either in (the NCAA Tournament), watching it or recruiting during it. I'm testing myself on what else is there in me? Being a better father, being a better husband. Spending more time with the kids, watching more movies, reading more, trying to be more worldly. I'm not very good at it but I'm trying."

Will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA? 

Arguably the biggest question concerning Wright's team heading into the offseason is will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA or will he return for his junior season at Villanova? Wright mentioned that Bey was especially disappointed when this season was cut short. He realizes that he has a big decision to make on his future. Wright discussed Bey's future plans as well as freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is also considered an NBA prospect. 

"The NBA is still on hold," Wright said. "They don't have a plan yet for what they're going to do with the pre-draft process or the draft yet. Saddiq and Jeremiah probably both will go through that process when we find out what it is. They're waiting on us for information, should they start working out? We're trying to get them as much information as possible. 

"If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do there are so many possibilities. Just to take it to an extreme, there's a possibility they might not have a pre-draft process and just have the draft with no workouts, using the evaluations they had during the season. 

"We're communicating with both of them daily. Saddiq is having a tough time trying to find a place to work out in [his hometown] Washington D.C. He just got a gym to get into so he can shoot, he can't find a gym to get into to lift. Jeremiah is trying to find a place around here to get into to shoot."

2020 Summer Olympics postponed

Wright was supposed to spend a portion of his summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team in Tokyo. But with this week's announcement that the Olympics are postponed, his plans have changed. 

"It's the right decision," Wright said. "I feel bad for all of those athletes that it's once in a lifetime experience. I really feel bad for them. For basketball guys it's not as difficult. I talked with [U.S. head coach Greg Popovich] yesterday. It's postponed, obviously not cancelled, postponed until some time next spring or summer. There's a lot of questions there. They could do it late spring, when you might not have NBA players. If they did it in the summer maybe you do have NBA players. We have to wait for the IOC to make those decisions. 

"For us personally (at Villanova), it's kind of crazy because we thought we came up with this great plan. I was going to have to leave our offseason program for the Olympics. We had a plan to work around that, and now it doesn't matter. We'll be here in June and July. Now we don't even know if the players will be here. We worked so hard to put this plan in place for me being away and now it doesn't even matter."

Phillies season on hold

A Bucks County native, Wright is a huge Philadelphia sports fan. He had Phillies season tickets as a kid and is a regular at Citizens Bank Park during the summer months. Like all Phillies fans, he's disappointed the baseball season isn't starting this week.

"The end of the basketball season was always sobering," Wright said. "But what always saved us was the start of the Phillies. Opening Day and the start of baseball season in our family is a big deal. 

"We watch the spring training games, we'll even joke, 'Who do the Phillies play tonight?' It's really surreal. Spring time without baseball, especially the Phillies, is bizarre. It's really the way myself and my family get ourselves out of basketball mode. We go to Opening Day, we go to the Phillies games, we love 'Bark in the Park', we always bring the dogs. We're really going to miss it."

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