PHILADELPHIA– It seemed like whenever Xavier would get close to tying or taking the lead, Villanova always had an answer.
Though it wasn’t quite like the 89-65 and 95-79 beatdowns Villanova put on Xavier last season, this was still a pretty comfortable victory for the #22 ranked Wildcats as they defeated the Musketeers 85-75 at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night.
“That certainly wasn’t pretty but you gotta give Xavier credit for that,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “They are a tough defensive team and you got to be willing to just get down in the mud with them and fight and scrap it out.”
Villanova relied on their hot shooting from deep, going 15-34 (44 percent) from beyond the arc. Senior guard Phil Booth had five of those threes as he finished with a game-high 22 points, and sophomore guard Collin Gillespie shot 60 percent (6-10) from deep, giving him 18 points total. Senior forward Eric Paschall also finished with 17 points.
But the alarming thing about Friday’s game was not the product on the court, but the wear and tear that senior leaders Booth and Paschall could face come February and March.
In their five Big East games, Booth has played 38, 35, 39, 36 and 36 minutes and Paschall has played 37, 38, 40, 38 and 37 minutes.
“We got to get some other guys going,” Wright said. “We’re going to wear those two out, we gave them two days off last week just playing 38 and 39 minutes, we really got to get other guys to step up.”
But who can step up for the Wildcats in these upcoming weeks? Aside from Booth and Paschall, Gillespie has started every game, and it’s usually been a mix of grad student Joe Cremo, sophomore wing Jermaine Samuels and sophomore forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, as well as freshman guard Saddiq Bey filling in the other two starting spots. Freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly comes off the bench, though his minutes have been sporadic from game-to-game.
For what it’s worth, Wright trotted out a lineup of Booth, Gillespie, Bey, Samuels and Paschall to start against Xavier. He also revealed that Cosby-Roundtree has been battling an injury and that they’ve been resting him as a precaution.
The Wildcats depth took a blow though when it was announced on Friday night that freshman wing Cole Swider will be sidelined indefinitely with a fractured bone in his right hand. Swider was averaging 3.9 ppg and 1.5 rpg on 10.4 mpg.
“This was the game we needed him,” Wright said. “We said after the Creighton game, those were a lot of small quick guys but now we’re playing some big guys we’re going to need you in this game, we’re going to miss him so we’re going to have to hold the line until he gets back.”
As the Wildcats are 5-0 in Big East play, it seems like all five of those games have been tough battles where the Wildcats had to scrap it out.
A close 73-68 victory over DePaul at home, a 65-59 win at Providence, a comeback 76-71 victory against St. John’s at home, a monster second half was needed in their 90-78 win at Creighton, and then on Friday night against Xavier. All five of their conference games have been tough contests.
“There were a lot of games last year where you get good separation, that’s not happening this year,” Wright said. “Everything’s going to be a grind, probably the way it should be and we’ve grinded some games out, but we’re kind of surviving right now, it’s not a pretty 5-0 but I do think we’re gradually getting a little bit better each game.”
Up next for the Wildcats is a matchup on the road against Butler. In their previous two matchups at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs have pulled off the upset and two seasons ago, they upset the Wildcats at the Pavilion.
“I think we learned how to play a little bit bigger which we might need to do against Butler,” Wright said. “And I also think we’re going through experience, Eric and Phil are really the only guys that have played together.”