Radnor, PA -- Josh Hart planted his cerulean sneakers 20 feet from the basket, his eyes watching the ball, his shoulders square to the rim.
It took a few passes around the arc, but the ball was back in Hart's hands late in the second half. One shot and he'd have a new career-high. He took two steps and raised both arms above his 6-foot-5 frame and snowy white jersey. Bang.
The No. 8 Villanova Wildcats made easy work of Rider 88 to 67, in front of 6500 fans - not too many students - at the Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Wildcats have started their season 11-0 for the first time since the 1961-1962 season, a feat that hasn't been seen in 52 years. Only two other Wildcat teams, the 1937-38 and '61-62 team, have started the season better, with 12 and 13 straight wins respectively.
Villanova is 11-0 for the 1st time in 52 years— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) December 21, 2013
Darrun Hilliard scored 13 points and posted a team-high seven rebounds in 25 minutes of action. But it was the Wildcats' freshman guard, Hart, who stole the show. Hart blew by defenders in transition all afternoon for his career-high 19 points and four rebounds on 7-for-8 shooting. JayVaughn Pinkston was the last Wildcat in double-figure scoring with 14 points and a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line. 11 different Wildcats scored.
But as he did Friday before practice, Head Coach Jay Wright still praised the Broncs. He said that any coach would know that Rider is a dangerous team.
"Their offensive numbers are dangerous," Wright said Saturday during the post-game press conference. "We knew that kind of team with their guards could give us a tough game. If our guys didn't come to play today, we would have gotten beat today...It's really a pleasure to coach guys that can focus on the next game and have respect for their opponent and that's what we did today."
With four players in foul trouble, James Bell, Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins and JayVaughn Pinkston, the bench stepped up for the second consecutive game, outscoring Rider's bench 40-7. The Wildcats out rebounded the Broncs 37-29 and only turned the ball over 12 times compared to Rider's 16.
And even with the national attention, a historic start spanning nearly two months, and the largest single-season turnaround in recent memory, Hart doesn't consider himself the best rookie in the Big East Conference, yet.
"I wouldn't say that," Hart responded after a long pause when asked if he was the best freshman in the Big East following his career-high in points.
"I'm just feeding off my teammates. Their finding me in good spots to score and I'll step into anything. I have to attribute my success to my teammates because they're getting me open and getting me shots."
Rider was paced by their senior guard Anthony Myles who scored 22 points and grabbed six rebounds against the Wildcats on 6-for-12 shooting from the field. Freshman guard Jimmie Taylor added 15 points of his own plus four boards and three assists in 36 minutes of game time.
In 71 possessions, Rider only led once. The Broncs never tied the game, didn't score any fast break points and never took the lead after the first minute of action. The Broncs' stud freshman, Taylor, held his head low during the post-game press conference. He said that his team told themselves they wouldn't dwell on anything coming into the game.
"We didn't match their energy," Taylor said. "In the locker room we said we would have no regrets. We definitely have some after playing that second half."
And Rider Head Coach Kevin Baggett wasn't pleased after the win. He said that his team would learn from the loss before heading into conference play.
"I think every game helps you out. We need to go back and correct how to box out and some rebounding. It starts with competing and to start the second half we could have competed better."
- Arcidiacono had his best first half of a game all season. Seven points, two assists and a bunch of strong boxouts in the post that led to a huge rebounding advantage. His second half was more questionable. Multiple turnovers and only two points in the second stretch
- Pinkston has been feeling it for most of the game. Starter pre-game warmups with a load of threes and found his perimeter shot for this one
- Jay Wright's nine-man rotation worked very well against Rider who was confined to only a few players from the bench
- Hart's defense and rebounding shined against the Broncs. He was one of the only guards that wasn't getting beat off the dribble and finished with a career high in scoring and was nearly perfect from the field
- The Wildcats have had a knack of getting into foul trouble in the last two games. Against Rider, they had four players with four fouls.
- Villanova had 11 players score in a game for the first time this season. Henry Lowe, who had been sinking most of his shots from deep in practice this week, netted his first attempt from the perimeter