WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. (AP)—Villanova has one more test before the calendar turns to a new year and Big East play begins.
Although there is still much to iron out with these rebuilding Wildcats, four victories in a row with the likely possibility of a winning streak headed into the league schedule isn’t such a bad thing.
Either way, coach Jay Wright will take it.
JayVaughn Pinkston had 16 points and James Bell added 15 as Villanova defeated Monmouth 83-56 on Saturday night. The Wildcats (8-4) will close out 2012 vs. New Jersey Institute of Technology on Friday.
“We’re getting better,” said Wright, who preached patience as Villanova lost four of five earlier in the year. “And we have the potential to get better from here. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
It didn’t seem like it in front an energized home crowd of 3,898 fans. Villanova placed four in double figures in scoring, including Tony Chennault (11) and Darrun Hilliard (10), and the Wildcats finished with 17 assists and 12 steals.
“His team is getting better,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “Their chemistry is awesome. They are a fun team to watch, but they are not a fun team to prepare for.”
Andrew Nicholas had 16 points and Marcus Ware finished with 12 for the Hawks (5-7), who fell to 0-9 lifetime vs. Villanova. The teams also met in the 2006 NCAA tournament in Philadelphia in a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 16 seeds. Villanova won that game 58-45.
“Monmouth plays hard, and you can really see that King is setting a tone for that program,” Wright said. “I thought we were tentative against them in the first half. In the second, it was a matter of our size taking over.”
Bell added five rebounds and a block in 29 minutes as the Wildcats won by their largest margin of the season. Villanova outrebounded Monmouth on the defensive side of the glass 24-17.
“We just tried to play our game,” Bell said. “We know if we stick to our core values and principles, we’ll get the results that we want.”
The game marked the second time in three years that the Wildcats played on this small Jersey Shore campus in a region where several Villanova alumni live. Two seasons ago, the Wildcats defeated Monmouth 76-36 here.
This time around, the Hawks ran out of gas late, committing 23 turnovers and 21 fouls along the way.
“They’re a Big East school. They are a bigger, stronger group,” Rice said. “They have a higher level group.
“But we’ll be better as the season goes along.”