Villanova coach Jay Wright liked how his team bounced back from a beating administered by an elite opponent. He'll get a chance to see what else his young Wildcats learned as they face a similar challenge at Virginia on Saturday.
Wright's team could not figuratively hit the water from the beach Dec. 7 at the Pearl Harbor Invitational in Honolulu, missing 28 of 32 3-point shots as No. 12 Villanova was throttled by then-No. 7 Oklahoma 78-55.
With a little bit of time to chew on the loss, Wright tinkered with his lineup for Sunday's game against Big 5 rival La Salle. He gave guard Phil Booth his first career start, and the sophomore responded with 10 points and was among five players in double figures as the Wildcats (8-1) routed the Explorers 76-47.
Villanova hit 13 of 28 from beyond the arc, raising its season accuracy to 30.4 percent - though a far cry from the 38.9 percent clip last season's 33-win squad achieved. The four guards in Wright's starting five - Booth, Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson combined for 55 points and shot 20 of 30, including 10 of 16 from 3-point range.
"We are a work in progress," Wright told the school's official website. "Last year at this time, we were starting five guys that had started a lot of games - at this point in the year we were a well-oiled machine. This group is not but we have a chance to get a lot better, and we're learning.
"I was pleased with what we took from the Oklahoma game and how we played against La Salle."
It was a needed bounce-back game for Brunson, the highly regarded freshman who finished with 13 points and four assists after behind held to 14 points and 5-of-20 shooting over his previous two games. He and Arcidiacono share playmaking duties for the Wildcats and have combined to compile a 3.24-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which would rank in the top 40 in the nation for a single player.
"These kinds of games are good for your team early in the season," Wright said. "This is going to be another great test for our team."
Eighth-ranked Virginia (8-1) has reeled off seven straight wins, with five coming on the road or at neutral sites. The Cavaliers have been idle since limiting then-No. 14 West Virginia to 18 second-half points in a 70-54 victory in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8.
"That win over West Virginia, in light of the struggles we had in the first half, was really a momentum-builder," assistant coach Brad Soderberg told Virginia's official website. "Hopefully the 10-day break for finals didn't cool us off."
The Cavs again are stout defensively, limiting opponents to 57.1 points per game and 31.4 percent shooting from 3-point range. However, they're not as good as last season when they yielded a Division I-low 51.5 points.
Virginia's break for finals was a welcome one for guard London Perrantes, who is three weeks removed from an appendectomy that sidelined him two games. He was a vital contributor against the Mountaineers, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half, and is eager to match up with the Wildcats.
"You're playing against four guards, which is a little bit different," said the junior, who is averaging 10.4 points and has made 14 of 26 3-pointers. "But we go up against good guards every day in practice. ... It's definitely exciting to go up against a team like Villanova."