Wright and Villanova on guard against a loss of focus

Aaron reminds Villanova's  Coach Wright of Speedy Claxton (Photo by Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)
Aaron reminds Villanova’s Coach Wright of Speedy Claxton (Photo by Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

By Paul Gotham

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Jay Wright sees the similarities in Villanova’s matchup with Milwaukee Thursday during the second round of the NCAA Tournament and last week’s game against Seton Hall in the Big East tournament.

That’s what makes the 13th-year coach uncomfortable.

When Wright and Villanova (28-4/16-2) arrived in New York City last week, they met with a heavy dose of distraction.  The No. 2 seed Wildcats face similar challenges in Buffalo this weekend.

While reaping the spoils of their first outright Big East title since 1982 and listening to the prospects of a pending battle with second-place Creighton in the championship, Villanova overlooked Seton Hall. And the Pirates made them pay with a 64-63 upset.

“It was definitely a jolt to our system,” Wright said Wednesday at the First Niagara Center. “They had a great game plan.  They played intelligently.  They made big shots.  You could lose and be okay with it, but we didn’t start that game ready to play, and that is the only game all year that we had done that.”

After falling behind by double-digits midway through the first half and trailing by as much as 13 after the break, Villanova rallied to take the lead only to fall on a jumper by Sterling Gibbs with one second remaining.

“I don’t know what it was,” Wright commented. “I don’t know if it was getting to New York.  It seemed like everybody got awards…Everybody was talking to us about playing Creighton, and we were saying to the guys and to everyone, We’ve got to play the winner of Seton Hall‑Butler first game. It must have gotten away from us a little bit, but it shocked us.  I can tell those guys learned a great lesson, and I can tell they’ve got a renewed focus and a fire in them that I think is going to help us.”

Standing in the way of a Philadelphia Big 5 rematch with St. Joseph’s is No. 15 seed Milwaukee Panthers (21-13/7-9) and their star guard Jordan Aaron.

“He can get a shot off any time, and he can make bad shots,” Wright stated. “Those guys are scary.  There could be a night where they miss them, and you’re okay. But a guy that can get tough shots and make them is really scary, and that’s what he is.  He’s so quick with the ball that it’s hard to double him.”

Aaron, the Horizon League Most Valuable Player from the Bronx, netted 15 a game while handing out 2.4 assists for the Panthers.

Wright sees in Aaron shades of some of his own former great guards.

“We’ve benefited probably as much as any coaching staff in the country from having great New York City guards.  Even from back in our days at Hofstra, Speedy Claxton, who he reminds me of a little bit, and Corey Fisher.”

The senior guard smiled at the comparison.

“I just try to go out there and play my style of basketball and just lead my teammates the best way I know how.  I just leave everything out on the floor like the rest of my team does.”

After reaching the Final Four in 2009, Villanova has claimed just one victory in the NCAA Tournament since. Something that is not lost on senior guard James Bell who has yet to be part of an NCAA Tournament victory.

“It means a lot to me to get a win in the tournament.  Being my senior year, you never want to go out.  Somebody has to lose their last game, but you never want to go out like we have in the past. But for us, if we play the way we’re supposed to play, win or lose, that’s good enough for me.  We’ve just got to go out doing it the way we do.”

Bell, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston all score at least 14 a game for Villanova.

Bell, Hilliard and Pinkston along with Ryan Arcidiacono earned All-Big East honors. Josh Hart was named to the All-Rookie team and Wright garnered Big East Coach of the Year.

Milwaukee and Villanova are the fourth game of the day in Buffalo and scheduled to tip approximately 20 minutes after the conclusion of the UConn-St. Joseph’s contest.

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