VILLANOVA, Pa. -- A double-digit lead for the final 36 minutes and 35 seconds. An advantage of 20-plus points for the final 23:14.
How well did Villanova play in Sunday night's 91-61 rout of Providence?
Friars head coach Ed Cooley said it best:
“They can beat anybody in the country if they’re making shots like that. They’re making shots like that, they can beat the Globetrotters.”
Jay Wright’s No. 11 Villanova Wildcats (13-1, 2-0 Big East) dominated from the opening tip, as JayVaughn Pinkston set the tone with a dunk just four seconds in (see Instant Replay).
Villanova proceeded to make 10 of its first 11 shots, which took Providence out of the game, but more importantly took the Friars out of their game.
“Our start, to get a lead like that, it’s tough for them to play behind," Wright said of Providence (10-5, 0-2).
"It kind of all fell into place for us. Getting that big lead meant they had to play faster to catch up, and that’s not their style.”
Wright called Providence perhaps the best half-court team in the Big East, but so much of the first half was spent with 'Nova either in transition or sinking threes that the Friars’ best team quality was rendered meaningless.
At one point early in the second half, with Villanova up by 34, the Wildcats had made more threes (11) than the Friars had made field goals (nine).
“Guarantee it wont be like that when we go at Providence, I promise you,” Wright said.
The win improves Villanova to 2-0 in the Big East with a series of winnable games on tap at Seton Hall, at St. John's and vs. DePaul before things get tougher with Creighton, Marquette and Georgetown.
When the Wildcats shoot like they did Sunday night -- 60 percent from the field, 54 percent from three -- they can indeed beat any team in the Big East. But such is the dilemma for a team built so heavily around outside shooting -- when the shots aren’t falling, they can look as bad as they did good Sunday.
“When you shoot a lot of threes like that, you’re gonna have nights when you look really good and nights when you look really bad,” Wright said.
“We're gonna have some ugly nights. Syracuse was one of them. We went in there against that zone thinking we’re gonna shoot our threes and we can beat ‘em.”
In the Dec. 28 game at Syracuse, Villanova’s only loss of the season, the Wildcats made their first four threes but missed 21 of their next 27. They blew an 18-point lead that, as of now, is the difference between a potential top-three ranking and their current standing at No. 11 in the nation.
That realization is why, despite Villanova’s 13-1 record that includes an 8-0 mark at home with those eight games being decided by an average of 22.3 points, Wright still thinks his team can improve.
“We do have to mix it up,” Wright said about adding a more consistent interior element to ‘Nova’s offense.
“JayVaughn Pinkston had 19 [tonight], inside game. But we did not do that against Syracuse; we did not mix it up.”
Pinkston actually led all Wildcats in scoring with those 19 points, which puts him 14 away from 1,000 for his career. Pinkston was borderline unstoppable in the second half against Providence, combining his big body with guard-like moves down low that were simply indefensible for the Friars’ bigs.
On one occasion, Pinkston faced up his defender and crossed him over before finishing on a gorgeous reverse layup. A few possessions later, he caught a pass in stride, spun around and finished before Providence’s interior defenders could even get a hand up.
If Villanova is going to continue to win Big East games and prove to be as tough as it looks early on, it will need these kinds of games from Pinkston, who leads the team with 16.1 points per game.
“If you know where he came from, in terms of where he was as a freshman -- to think this guy could be a leader -- that’s what I’m most proud of, and that's helping his game,” Wright said of Pinkston, who was suspended for his entire freshman season after being charged with two counts of simple assault and harassment following a fight at an off-campus apartment.
“He’s been really consistent, just one turnover tonight," Wright continued. "He’s really playing well defensively. He’s becoming a complete player. And he’s still got a long way to go, he can get a lot better.”
As can his team. Wright acknowledged that Villanova’s national standing has put a bullseye on its back, and now the Wildcats face the challenge of meeting expectations, even if those things are never truly discussed internally.
“If people are looking at us as the target, then they're gonna get better chasing us,” he said. “So we have to get better every day.”
'Nova’s next chance to get better comes Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Seton Hall.