The Wildcats made a total of 10 3-point field goals in Saturday’s Big East victory. (Rachel Bleier/The Villanovan)
by Paul Regan
The Wildcats, coming off two consecutive losses, took an early lead against Xavier and never looked back, defeating the Musketeers by a score of 61-32 in just the second game between the two teams.
With Saturday’s 29-point victory in the Pavilion, Villanova improved to 4-4 in the Big East (14-5 overall) while Xavier fell to 3-5 in the league (8-12 overall). The win was an important one for Villanova as it righted the ship in what is always tough sailing in the middle of the Big East schedule.
“In the beginning of the season we came out playing really strong and we sort of hit a slump the past few weeks,” sophomore guard Katherine Coyer said. “But coming out and playing well and together as a team against Xavier will hopefully give us a lot of momentum going into the second half of Big East play.”
Coyer, junior forward Emily Leer, and junior forward Lauren Burford connected on 3-pointers on Villanova’s first three shots of the game. On the other end, a cold start by Xavier and strong defense by the Wildcats resulted in turnovers and missed shots. After the first four minutes, the ’Cats held a 9-0 lead, one that they would never relinquish.
Villanova turned the ball over on the next couple of possessions, but Xavier could not capitalize as ’Nova continued to contest three-point shots and challenge layups. The Wildcats would hold the Musketeers to just a 22 percent (6-27) field goal percentage in the first half.
At the five minute mark, Villanova was in front, 28-11, and continued to build on its lead. During a 16-2 run to end the first half, Coyer and Leer hit each hit a 3-point shot in the last minute of the half to give the ’Cats a commanding 38-13 lead at the break.
The Wildcats owed their large lead to a balanced scoring attack, especially their blistering start from behind the arc and great team defense. All five of Villanova’s starters scored within the first five minutes of the game, and Coyer scored all 10 of her points in the first half to lead the way for Villanova.
The ’Cats shot 54 percent (15-28) from the field and 50 percent (6-12) from the three- point line while holding Xavier to just 8 percent (1-12) from 3-point range in the half.
In Coyer’s mind, the team’s relentless defensive effort translated to its success from three-point range. “When we’re down and ready and playing well and getting stops on defense it makes us just that much more confident on the offensive end,” Coyer said.
’Nova started the second half right where it left off in the first half. Burford, senior guard Devon Kane and sophomore forward Kavunaa Edwards each made 3-point field goals within the first couple minutes of the half to quickly put to rest any hope of a comeback by Xavier.
The last of the 3-pointers gave ’Nova a 47-15 lead.
Villanova’s lead hovered around 30 points in the second half and the ’Cats led by as many as 36 as the win was never really in question for the home team. The 32 points scored by Xavier were the fewest total points ever allowed by Villanova in a Big East game.
The Musketeers came into Saturday afternoon’s contest ranked third in the Big East in 3-point field goals per game but shot just 25 percent from the field and 11 percent from three-point range in the game.
Xavier was led by senior guard Shatyra Hawkes, who had nine points and seven rebounds and sophomore guard Jenna Crittendon, who contributed eight points and six rebounds.
Kane scored a game-high 16 points for Villanova on 7-12 shooting from the field. She also recorded seven rebounds and three steals.
Edwards contributed seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds, the second consecutive game in which she’s had double-digit rebounds. Leer turned in a complete performance for the Wildcats with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Villanova continued its success from the three-point line this season. The ’Cats shot 37 percent making 10 of their 27 shots from behind the arc against Xavier.
This was the fifth game for the Wildcats in which they have made double-digit three-point field goals.
“Shooting the 3 ball has always played an important role in our offense,” Coyer said. “All of our players can shoot the three with confidence, including our post players.”
Villanova has outscored its opponents by an impressive 466-264 margin from three-point range this year.
“This win is great for us moving forward in Big East play,” Kane said. “If we can play defense and hit threes like we did against Xavier we will be in every game for the rest of the season and it will definitely put us in a great position for the postseason.”
The Wildcats will look to continue their 3-point dominance when they host the Creighton Bluejays on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. in an important Big East matchup.