After what was a smooth start to the season, Villanova got their first taste of reality on Tuesday night in the Pearl Harbor Invitational. Against #7 ranked Oklahoma, the Wildcats took a 77-58 loss at the Bloch Arena. Following a six day break, the ‘Cats took the court at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam with no air conditioning and no three point game. What usually is a strong suit for the team proved to be the killer in this one, as Villanova went 4-32, posting a .125 three-point percentage. Villanova put themselves in a hole with this lack of deep-ball accuracy and the Sooners took advantage quickly.
Oklahoma, led by senior guards Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins, was able to do what ‘Nova usually does best and annihilate an opponent with three’s. The team’s consistency from beyond the ark was just one of the predominant factors in the win for the Sooners but what was most noticeable was their durability.
Villanova countered the potent offensive game from OU with a few runs of great defense where they forced turnovers on repetitive drives and stretched the floor offensively. Oklahoma bounced back from said runs with stops of their own. As ESPN’s C. L. Brown notes, “the Sooners shut down a Villanova team that ranked eighth in adjusted offense, according to Ken Pomeroy, holding the Wildcats to a season-low 55 points and just 31.7 percent shooting from the field.” Those are the gritty characteristics that you see out of a team with its eyes on March and Oklahoma has that goal in sight.
Although I was feeling quite down and aggravated at my Wildcats for taking such a beating, there are some positives that can be drawn from the game. First of all, it is only one loss. This year’s schedule gives a very good mixture of competitive nonconference opponents and classic rivalry matchups for Villanova. There are plenty of opportunities to snatch back an easy victory or a statement win, like the upcoming contests against La Salle on the 13th, or the December 19th trip to Virginia. If ‘Nova can hop off the schneid and win at Charlottesville, a traditionally difficult away game, it will be a propellor for team confidence and national reputation as they continue through tough Big East games like #12 Xavier and at #18 Butler.
Secondly, Oklahoma is a really good team. I mean really good. This squad has the legitimate potential of a Final Four run, backed by the offensive prowess of Hield and Cousins and help on the boards from center Ryan Spangler, who also has a surprise 3 pointer in his holster.
Finally, it just wasn’t their night. This is a plausible excuse for a team who was all over the West Coast and Hawaiian Islands taking tours, doing media appearances, and alumni events. These type of non-game events that a team may go through, say during the NCAA Tournament for instance, can be distractions for the players, so a bad loss here can be used as an example for what not to do next time around.
No one should write off Villanova yet, despite my fear of the national media’s intentions to do just that. What I know about this team is that they are a young group of guys that have a whole lot of potential and talent and need a whole lot of direction. That will come partially from head coach Jay Wright, and partially from upperclassmen like Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart. What coach Wright did so well immediately after the loss was that he drew from the positives of the trip without ignoring the facts. In an interview with Villanova.com, Wright said, “I don’t think you’d normally say when you get blown out like this that it’s a good experience,” stated Wright, “but this was a great experience. I think our guys learned a lot about the service men and women that currently are serving the country because they’ve been with us. They’ve been awesome. We have learned a lot.” He also added more about the game itself, calling it “valuable” and it really is. The true testament to its value, though, will be whether Villanova learns from their mistakes. If they don’t, the value is nonexistent and soon their title hopes could be too.
Photo: Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship