No. 7 Villanova runs away from Illinois at Jimmy V as Daunting Six-Game Stretch Looms | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Saturday / June 15.
  • No. 7 Villanova runs away from Illinois at Jimmy V as Daunting Six-Game Stretch Looms

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    Dylan EnnisBy JOSH NEWMAN

    NEW YORK – Seventh-ranked Villanova may be 9-0 following a 73-59 win over Illinois at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday evening, but that mark has not come easily.

    The Wildcats had a tough time against Bucknell on Nov. 20 in a 72-65 win, trailed Michigan by eight in the second half on Nov. 25 before charging back for a five-point win and were tied at 50 on Tuesday with the FIghting Illini with 8:32 to play before veteran-savvy took over down the stretch.

    Facing a daunting six-game stretch beginning Sunday with Temple, Villanova head coach Jay Wright will argue his team has not only been punched, but absorbed the best shot from multiple quality opponents already this season.

    “They’re good enough shots for me,” Wright said laughingly of the threats Michigan and Illinois provided. “We don’t have to lose. They’re good enough, they hurt enough. We can learn a lot from those. If you blew everybody, you would want to, but we’ve been down in games. We’ve had enough shots.”

    Redshirt junior guard Dylan Ennis scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, while junior forward Daniel Ochefu and senior guard Darrun Hilliard each added 12 as the Wildcats closed the game on a 23-9 run. That, after former Seton Hall guard Aaron Cosby tied the game at 50 with his only field goal of the game, a 3-pointer from the left wing.

    Attention will turn to Temple on Sunday and while Ennis preached a one-game-at-a-time mentality postgame, it is hard for everyone else to not look ahead.

    After the Owls, Villanova will host Syracuse on Dec. 20, NJIT on Dec. 23 and 15th-ranked Butler on New Year’s Eve to open Big East-play. The Wildcats are then at Seton Hall on Jan. 3 and back here at Madison Square Garden to take face St. John’s on Jan. 6.

    Within those six games, that Highlanders matchup can no longer be viewed as a night off, not after they won at Michigan on Saturday. The Bulldogs have surpassed all expectations, as have the Pirates, while the Red Storm has built a nice resume so far with wins over Minnesota and the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.

    “We only worry about the games in front of us,” said Ennis, a redshirt junior and the older brother of Phoenix Suns rookie point guard Tyler Ennis. “We just played a game against Illinois, a good team, and now we focus on the next game. Games are scheduled, but all of our focus is on the next game.”

    “You guys have to do that, that’s your job, but when you don’t look at those, that’s when those teams beat you when you start looking ahead,” Wright said. “We have Temple coming up next and we’ll put everything into Temple. We have juniors and seniors, but those guys can really do it. The younger guys can say it, but these guys can really do it.”

    Expectations are high for this group and with good reason. From a team that went 29-5 last season, the Wildcats return a slew of key pieces in Ennis, Hilliard, Ochefu, redshirt senior forward JayVaughn Pinkston and junior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. 

    Those five, alone, represent not only a lot of career-games played, but a lot of times having stepped into a big-game atmosphere. Tuesday’s second-half explosion was merely more proof that this group will not be rattled easily.

    “I think what’s important is that the juniors and seniors understand that as much as you love it, you can’t get caught up in it,” Wright said. “You have to come there and perform, and that’s what juniors and seniors do. That’s where the maturity comes in. They don’t get caught up in the hype. They just get excited about the challenge of being here.”

    Photo: Getty Images

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