VIllanova looking for better effort vs. Tennessee (Nov 23, 2017)
One coach enters Thursday’s semifinal game of the Battle 4 Atlantis pleased with his team’s toughness while the other is not thrilled about his team being timid with its communication.
The coach with positive thoughts is Rick Barnes of unranked Tennessee (3-0); the one who had a concerned look on his face Wednesday was Jay Wright of No. 5 Villanova (4-0).
The Volunteers upset No. 18 Purdue on Wednesday by persevering in overtime with a 78-75 win, earning the right to face the Wildcats in the semifinal round of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Thursday at Paradise Island, Bahamas.
“We really showed the toughness that we’ve been looking for from them, to play for 45 minutes,” Barnes said. “Our guys just kept finding ways to fight back.”
Villanova beat Western Kentucky 66-58 in a game that was in doubt until a 12-2 run midway through the second half. The Wildcats trailed the Hilltoppers by as many as six points in the first half.
“They controlled the tempo from the start,” Wright said. “It didn’t look good for a while there and you have to give them a lot of credit. They usually play a little faster than that, but they were smart knowing there are three games in three days here.
“Offensively, they had us out of whack by switching up defenses, and that led to our poor shooting.”
Villanova, which led 27-24 at halftime, shot only 33.3 percent in the first half. The Wildcats shot 62.5 percent in the second half thanks to guards Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo.
They combined to make 11 of 14 shots from the field in the second half. DiVincenzo scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime.
Brunson finished with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field while Bridges contributed 17 points, eight rebounds and five steals.
“Tennessee is big and athletic. We have our work cut out for us,” Wright said. “If we let them do what Western Kentucky did to us by controlling the tempo early, we’ll be in trouble.”
Tennessee grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against a Purdue interior that has size. The Volunteers outrebounded Purdue 50-41, led by 11 boards by 6-foot-11, 225-pound forward Kyle Alexander.
Tennessee attempted 21 more shots than Purdue because of its 20 offensive rebounds. Forward Grant Williams had eight rebounds and 6-foot-5 guard Admiral Schofield totaled seven. Alexander, Williams and Schofield combined for 12 offensive boards.
Their dominating performance belied the preseason predictions, which had Tennessee finishing 13th in the SEC.
“The only time that’s ever brought up is when I get mad at them,” Barnes said. “I tell them they were picked there for a reason. But we really don’t talk about it. Because we decided we’re going to set our own standard.”
The winner advances to the championship game Friday. Villanova won this event in 2013, outlasting Iowa in overtime in the title game after beating USC and Kansas.