|Nova should be an improved club this year, but it really folded in the second half against a strong Bama crew. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- Trevor Releford's wide-open 3 at the 13:34 mark of the second half put Alabama up 43-33, and that's pretty much when Villanova curled its neck downward and retreated into its shell for good.
Then, in the closing minutes, it actually happened: Jay Wright put away his smile and cool demeanor and showed visible hostility toward someone aside from the fella sitting in the third row who clashed a striped suit with a checkered shirt. This was Jay Wright angry, and you wouldn't want to see him when he's angry because mainly that's not a look recognizable to anyone who knows the man.
He was unhappy with the officials, but he was even more unhappy with his team. It was only the heat of the moment, though. Afterward, in the postgame presser, Wright was cool and composed, complimentary of the opponent and reasoned about his relatively young team. The veteran Villanova coach said his guys got outworked and really outplayed by a Bama squad that he was extremely impressed with. His voice and tenor suggested real surprise by how good the Tide were Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
"I hope Alabama is a great team," Wright said, meaning he hopes his club didn't just get poleaxed by a middle-of-the-road SEC team that could be fighting on the bubble down the road.
(If you'd like a read on Friday night's victors, Borzello did good on Bama already.)
When it was over, Villanova fell 77-55, losing its first game of the season. It didn't look good in the loss, not by any means, and the first thought I had when watching was, I'm not seeing any improvement from last year's team. The Wildcats looked listless, and I know it's just a mid-November game, but this had all the makings of Villanova's 2011-12 group, which missed the NCAAs for the first time in eight years.
Wright refused that comparison afterward.
"It's a different group; we're definitely not the same," he said. "Tony Chennault is getting comfortable, and we need to have another guy who gets comfortable with handling the ball, too. He wants to do the right things. Tonight was a learning experience, and [Alabama] certainly had a better identity than us."
How much better?
"It was 29-26 at half and I thought, We can't play any worse … but they proved me wrong," Wright said.
It should be noted that Villanova kind of got away with one Thursday night in overtime against Purdue. Wright conceded that, too.
"We are definitely a work in progress -- we could have lost last night's game very easily," Wright said. "Other guys have to make plays other than Ryan."
Wright was referring to freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono, a top-50 recruit before an injury his senior year of high school. The team is young and it is changing. And from the looks of it, it still doesn't have a handle on knowing its identity or having a leader. These are problems that have now remained constant at Villanova for more than two seasons.
But it's OK. There is transition about, and there are positive new pieces in Chennault and Arcidiacono. Sophomore guard Achraf Yacoubou also saw a lot of floor time in the loss.
By the way, Villanova was fairly hapless and helpless against Alabama junior guard Trevor Releford, who finished with a career-best 25, going 5-of-5 from 3-point range. He won the 2K Sports Classic's MOP award. He did whatever he wanted against Villanova, and that was probably most disturbing, either that or the Wildcats' six total offensive rebounds.
I'll close with this. At the early point in the season, you largely know what you're going to get from head coaches. But players? It can be different. A lot of guys have differing levels of expectations for themselves and their teams. Some don't take early season losses well for one reason or another. Here's what Villanova sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston took away from the beating.
"It wasn't a disappointment; it was just a learning experience."
That's good. We'll see if this is a different Villanova team, one that can make a run at a bid. It has trails to travel before it's in that position, but at least it took the whipping and realized what still remains ahead. If Wright's right, this team won't stagger like last year, when it only had two occurrences of winning two games in a row or more.