By Mary Cunningham
Villanova coach Jay Wright is a cool Cat.
When he called a timeout with his team trailing Nebraska by seven midway through the first half last night at the Pavilion, it was nothing the Wildcats hadn’t seen before.
Spurred by 19 points from Josh Hart (above) and 17 points and 10 rebounds from Daniel Ochefu, No. 11 Villanova ran off 22 straight points late in the first half to roll past the Huskers 87-63.
Ryan Arcidiacono added 15 points and Phil Booth scored 11 for the Wildcats (2-0), who shot 49.2 percent from the field in the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games, which pits teams from the Big East against Big Ten squads.
Andrew White III led Nebraska (1-1) with 18 points for the second straight game while Shavon Shields and Glynn Watson Jr. scored 12 apiece.
“I think that’s something we’ve gotten used to over the years,” Wright said. “We respect everybody. Even if we’re supposed to beat somebody, I think our guys know that anyone can beat you. That team is definitely good enough to beat us when we’re not playing well.”
Trailing 23-16 with 7:43 left in the first half, Villanova reeled off the game’s next 22 points before Watson ended Nebraska’s seven-minute scoring drought with a bucket right before halftime. Arcidiacono and Hart kicked off the game-changing spurt with back-to-back 3-pointers and Darryl Reynolds capped it with a thunderous dunk.
Before that, Nebraska went on a 12-2 run of its own with Shields burying a 3-pointer and converting a three-point play over a four-minute stretch to put a scare into the two-time defending Big East champs.
“I thought we were in a good spot,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “It was just when we got stuck on 23 (points) for seven minutes. You’re not gonna overcome that against a team like these guys.”
Wright credited his team’s defense for helping the Wildcats take control of the game late in the first half before going on a 13-0 second-half run that put them up 66-38 with 8:12 left.
The Cornhuskers, who shot 54 percent from the field in their 97-51 season-opening rout of Mississippi Valley State, shot just 37.7 percent and committed 22 turnovers with ‘Nova scoring 33 points off those giveaways.
“When they got the lead, I thought we had a couple of great plays by (redshirt freshman) Mikal Bridges and (Arcidiacono) getting steals,” Wright said. “We just weren’t making shots. But we got some easy buckets and then all of a sudden the threes started going in.”
On top of scoring 19 points, Hart also finished with five rebounds and four steals, while shooting 8 for 14 for the field.
Still, Wright said it’s been an adjustment for Hart to be in the starting lineup after two seasons of providing a big spark off the bench.
“It’s really the concentration level that’s demanded,” the Villanova coach said. “For some reason, he’s struggled a bit with it. But it’s only the second game and he did a great job with it tonight, so let’s hope that continues.”