Villanova didn’t have it easy in its most recent victory. Being able to pull out a close game, though, could prove beneficial to the Wildcats as they begin play at the Old Spice Classic on Thursday against Central Florida.
The 20th-ranked Wildcats (2-0) came back from an eight-point, halftime deficit to beat Bucknell 70-64 at home Sunday. Villanova overcame Bucknell’s school-record 15 3-pointers and was able to shut down Bison star John Griffin in the second half.
Griffin scored 17 points in the first half, but just five in the second when 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Reggie Redding turned up the defensive pressure.
“They gave us everything we could handle,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team moved up four spots in the poll after the win. “Our defense is always as a team, but I thought Reggie Redding did an incredible job chasing Griffin around.
“Reggie has really improved his defense and that is something we have seen coming from him. We want our guys to take pride in their defense and Reggie is starting to do that.”
Redding, a Philadelphia native, also scored a career-high 12 points. Junior Shane Clark scored 17 and pulled down 12 rebounds for the Wildcats, who made up for shooting 27.3 percent (6-for-22) from 3-point range by outrebounding Bucknell 43-26.
The 6-7 Clark, who underwent knee surgery in April, is averaging 21.0 points and 9.5 rebounds after posting 7.4 points and 4.0 boards in 33 games last season.
“I feel like a new man,” Clark said.
Sunday’s hard-fought victory could prepare the Wildcats for what’s ahead this weekend in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Villanova and No. 18 Kansas State are the only ranked squads in the eight-team field, which also includes North Carolina State, Penn State, South Carolina and 2006 Final Four participant George Mason.
A Villanova win over Central Florida (2-0) in the teams’ first-ever meeting could set up a second-round matchup against Kansas State, which plays George Mason in the first round.
Central Florida, which won 78-64 at home over Norfolk State on Friday, won’t have far to travel to play in the second-year event. The Orlando school is the first Conference USA member to play in the tournament.
Jermaine Taylor scored 20 points and had seven rebounds Friday for the Knights, who return three starters from last season’s 22-9 team and are picked to finish sixth in the 12-team conference.
Central Florida, which beat Nevada 63-60 in its season opener, looks to avoid its eighth straight loss to a ranked opponent dating to an 82-64 win over then-No. 25 College of Charleston on Dec. 12, 2002.
“When you play teams with rankings, it lets you compare yourself with the best,” UCF guard Chip Cartwright said. “Playing those kind of teams helps us get better.”