NEW YORK — It was not the havoc the VCU Rams are accustomed to.
Coach Shaka Smart has built the Rams into a fast-paced get-after-it team, but in Monday’s semifinal of the Progressive Legends Classic at the Barclays Center it was the Villanova Wildcats who created the mayhem.
No. 12 Villanova (4-0) overwhelmed No. 14 VCU (3-1), 77-53. The loss was the worst for VCU since a 71-51 decision to George Mason on Feb. 5, 2011.
The Wildcats used a massive second-half blitz where they shot 58 percent from the field, including 6 of 10 3-pointers. With the game knotted at 32 at the half, the Rams scored three quick baskets for a brief 38-32 edge.
Then Villanova’s version of havoc took over. Coach Jay Wright’s team on a 16-0 burst to re-take the lead 48-36 with just under four minutes gone in the half. Forward Kris Jenkins led the onslaught with five points.
“I told them at halftime, if we are not aggressive, their (VCU) going to take it from us.,” Wright said. “They (VCU) are aggressive all the time.”
All five of the Wildcats’ baskets in the sequence came with assists. Villanova registered 20 assists on its 29 made baskets in the game. Junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono had nine assists and no turnovers against a team known for its pressure.
“You don’t see this kind of pressure,” said Wright, “so you know at some point you’re going to get tested. I thought we did a great job of passing the ball. If you could it against them (VCU), you should be able to do it against most teams.”
“It was a privilege for us to get this test this early against a team like that. The way they play just tests all your concepts, it tests your will, your stamina and conditioning.”
Smart singled out Arcidiacono as a prime example of the Wildcats unselfish play.”
“They played well together,” observed Smart. “They played their roles well. Ryan Arch (Arcidiacono) played a big part of that.”
Forward JayVaughn Pinkston led Villanova with 15 points, guard Darrun Hilliard scored 14 points and Jenkins had 13. Guard Josh Hart scored 10 points of the bench.
Pinkston was playing in front of family members, just a few miles away from where he starred at Bishop Laughlin High School.
“Coach and I talked about me coming up to play in New York and in front of my family,” said Pinkston. “He said to remember to focus on defense and that’s what I did the first couple of plays.”
VCU was paced by guard Melvin Johnson and Briante Weber, who scored 13 points each.
The Wildcats play the winner of the Michigan-Oregon game in Tuesday’s final.
The Wildcats shut down one of the country’s best offensive teams in the Rams. VCU was averaging 92.7 points until they were stymied by Villanova’s man-to-man approach.
Coach Jay Wright’s team turned VCU’s high-scoring backcourt tandem into non-factors. Senior Treveon Graham and Johnson were averaging 18 points apiece for the Rams, but ended the night with four and 13 points, respectively.
NOTES: This was the eighth game VCU played at the Barclays Center, the host of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. … The Rams scored 85 or more points in each of their first three games for only the second time in school history. … The Rams have led the country in steals per game for three straight seasons. … Villanova was a unanimous selection to finish first in Big East Conference in the preseason voting by the coaches.
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