Guard U may be changing its syllabus for the Spring.
Since Jay Wright took over the Villanova program in 2001, they have been known for their dynamic back courts. They rode a star studded four guard lineup to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005 and to the Elite Eight in 2006.
Names like Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Kyle Lowry, and most recently Scottie Reynolds have dominated the headlines on the Main Line for years. This year has not been any different with the likes of Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Maalik Wayns at the helm.
Things changed Wednesday night at the Pavilion, where Villanova beat Marquette 75-70 for their 46th win in a row at the on campus arena.
From the start, Jay Wright sent a message inserting 6’8 forward Isiah Armwood into the starting lineup, joining usual starters Antonio Pena and Mouph Yarou in the front court, and sitting his sophomore guard and 3rd leading scorer Maalik Wayns.
Villanova set the tone early, controlling the boards and feeding sophomore Mouph Yarou in the post. Yarou showed some good moves down low and got some easy buckets for the Wildcats early, finishing with 18 points and 5 rebounds.
Armwood held his own in the post, played solid defense, and helped out on the boards in his first start of the season.
Senior Antonio Pena controlled the paint from the tip. Finishing with 14 points, 10 of which came in the 2nd half, and 10 rebounds for his 4th double-double of the season. Usually undersized as a big man in a big league, Pena also added 2 blocks and joined fellow Seniors Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes as 1,000 point scorers for Villanova. Only the 2nd team in Villanova history to boast a senior class with three 1,000 point scorers.
“Villanova doesn’t win too many games because of their inside game, and I think we did,” Wright said. “I thought Mouph was outstanding and ‘Tone was great.”
Defensively, Villanova held the Big East’s highest scoring team to only 25 points in the first half. Marquette did not handle the press very well and shot only 34% in the first half, including 2-9 from three. Leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom was held to 7 first half points on 3-9 shooting and Jimmy Butler was held to 4 points on 1-5 shooting.
It wasn’t all big men for Villanova as Corey Fisher quarterbacked the Wildcats beautifully and controlled the tempo from the outset. Fisher fed the post when necessary and got to the hoop almost at will on his way to 17 points, 6 assists, and 4 steals. On a night where Pena scored his 1,000th point, Fisher became only the 25th player in team history to score his 1,500 point.
Perhaps sending a message to the younger guys, Wright went with a 6 man lineup, only using Wayns off the bench regularly. Sophomores Dominic Cheek and Maurice Sutton, averaging 20 and 11 minutes respectively, each saw less than 4 minutes playing time for the game.
Wayns added 10 points and 4 assists for Villanova, who had 5 players in double figures.
In a game that was actually must closer than it felt, Villanova probably won the game at the free throw line. The Wildcats shot 29-33 from the line compared to the 13-14 shot by Marquette. A usually sub-par free throw shooter, Yarou went 8-10 from the stripe. Pena also added 8-9 from the line, as the two dominated the game in more ways than the usual.
Corey Stokes who was ice cold in the first half shooting 2-8, including 1-5 from three, warmed up in the second half. Never hesitating, Stokes continued to shoot every open look and ended the game with 17 points, on 3-5 shooting in the 2nd half. However, Stokes did miss his first free throw since January 9th dropping his percentage to a gaudy 93%.
Perhaps this is a sign of things to come for a Villanova team that has it’s sites set on returning to the Final Four. Maybe it was Larry Brown, who was in the building sitting courtside, who advised Jay Wright to go big. Maybe it was a sudden revelation that came to him in a dream. Whatever it was, Wright knows that if he is going to contend for a national championship he’s going to need a solid front court to go along with those star guards. With no team really separating themselves as the team to beat this year in college hoops, any team that can win with the big guys as well as the guards will be a team to be reckoned with come March. Jay Wright may have found that.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.