Fisher, No. 7 Villanova run past UCLA
Corey Fisher has a simple way of explaining Villanova's three-guard offense that also includes Malik Wayns and Corey Stokes.
''We both do the same thing, and Coach is always on us about staying on attack - even when we're tired - I'm like, 'Coach, I need a break,' and he's like, 'Attack, attack,''' Fisher said of he and fellow point/scoring guard Wayns. ''If I'm down, Malik picks me up, and if we're both down Corey picks us up. That's why we're a great team.''
The seventh-ranked Wildcats were impressive Wednesday night in their 82-70 victory over UCLA in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Fisher finished with a career-high 26 points, while Wayns had 19 and Stokes 16.
It wasn't just the three guards, either. Villanova may finally have a big man good enough to make a difference at the school known for its stellar guards.
Six-foot-10 sophomore center Mouphtaou Yarou had 13 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and three blocks to dominate inside.
''That was big for us, Mouph getting 16 rebounds,'' Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. ''He really struggled last year, you don't need to hear all the drama, but just a brutal year for him last year. ... He can be a force inside. We've never really had a big guy who, he gets their fourth foul, you want to get him back in. We've always had a bunch of guards to run in there. It's nice to have a big guy.''
The Wildcats (5-0) will face No. 24 Tennessee in the championship game Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The Volunteers beat Virginia Commonwealth 77-72 in the other semifinal.
''They've got big, long, athletic players,'' Wright said of the Volunteers. ''We got to coach Scotty Hopson this summer, really good player. ... I think a defensive team that's similar to UCLA.''
Malcolm Lee had 13 points for the Bruins (3-1), while Lazeric Jones had 12 and Reeves Nelson had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
''They're a very, very good team,'' UCLA coach Ben Howland said. ''I thought we did a good job coming back, fighting back. I think we had it to six in the second half. ... We missed four free throws in a row and got stops and had a chance to whittle the lead.''
Villanova closed the first half with a 14-2 run to take a 44-29 lead. Fisher had six points in the spurt and Wayns had four. The Bruins were their own worst enemy during the run, not making a field goal over the last 5:30 and committing five turnovers.
UCLA was able to get within eight points four times midway through the second half as Villanova started the half making four of its first 20 shots from the field. But each time the Bruins seemed ready to make a big run, the Wildcats answered to get the lead back to double figures.
The fifth time the Bruins got within eight they scored to get within 58-52, but they hurt themselves at the free throw line.
UCLA made 11 of its first 12 free throws in the game. Once the Bruins got within six with 7:53 to play, they made just two of seven attempts over the next two minutes and Villanova took advantage to start opening the lead again. UCLA never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
''I was more surprised we were up 15 at half,'' Wright said. ''We've coached against Ben and I knew that team wasn't going to go away, and they really grinded and did a good job. ... That's a sign of Ben's teams, great discipline, and they did a really good job. That's why I feel good about this win.''
The Wildcats kept their assist-to-turnover ratio on the plus side in the early season. They had 11 assists and seven turnovers against UCLA, making their season total 87 assists to 46 turnovers.
Jones was asked about the Bruins guards job of trying to contain Villanova's three guards.
''I tried, I guess, didn't do a great job of it. It wasn't my best effort at all,'' he said. ''They were as good as they're supposed to be. They have some really good guards, two of the best guards in the country. ... We learned some things.''
This was the Wildcats' 17th straight win in November and they are now 13-12 at Madison Square Garden under Wright, who recruits heavily in the New York area.
''I know for me, one of our biggest concerns every time we play here, it's the opponent and then it's our New York guys being in the Garden,'' Wright said. ''They're overexcited, they want to do well.''