Villanova’s Wright: Playing Saint Joseph’s at Hagan to be ‘wild’

Posted on December 14, 2011

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Jay Wright, seated between Dominic Cheek (left) and Maalik Wayns, said after Tuesday's win over Boston that Saturday's game against Saint Joseph's at Hagan is going to be wild. (Credit Aaron Bracy)

By AARON BRACY

Philahoops Editor

Twitter: @Aaron_Bracy

Facebook: facebook.com/Philahoops

For the first time in the history of the long, heated rivalry, Saint Joseph’s will host Villanova at the Hawks’ cozy campus site.

Forever, the game known as the Holy War was played at the Palestra whenever it was St. Joe’s turn to host. And it was practically unimaginable that it would be moved as long as Phil Martelli headed the Hawks program.

Martelli has been on record saying that the game always would be at the Palestra.

Likely wanting to earn back the home-court advantage that has been missing since St. Joe’s transformed the Fieldhouse into Hagan Arena, Martelli and the University decided to pass up the dollars and host the Cats at Hagan.

Villanova coach Jay Wright, speaking after the Cats’ 68-43 victory over Boston University on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, said he doesn’t know what to expect – other than a loud, intense atmosphere.

“When we used to play them at the Palestra that was one of the toughest environments we played in at any time, so I just can’t imagine,” he said following his press conference outside of the Nova locker room. “I just don’t know what it’s going to be like.”

Wright said his only game experience on Hawk Hill was playing there while a member of Bucknell.

“I remember (former Hawks standout) Bryan Warrick lit me up,” a laughing Wright said. “That was my last memory. They went four corners and I was trying to guard him. My coach was yelling at me and he was blowing by me.

“It was crowded then, now it’s bigger, nicer. And it’s St. Joe-Villanova. I really can’t imagine what it’s going to be like.”

One of the tough things about preparing for a game like Saturday’s, Wright said, is the Cats will be playing in a bandbox atmosphere that they are unaccustomed to.

 “I see it and it looks crazy,” he said. “You just don’t play in places like that.”

One plus for the Cats is they have five newcomers who are more used to smaller gyms than large arenas that frequent Big East competition.

“To me that’s something that’s good about having young guys,” Wright said, “because they just played in more similar gyms like that. (But) it’s not the gym, it’s the environment.”

And it’s an environment that Wright knows will be crazy. The coach feels last Saturday’s game against Temple, a 78-67 loss at the Owls’ Liacouras Center in another hostile environment, will help Villanova.

“I definitely think our freshmen in the Temple game got a little … rattled,” Wright said. “I don’t think scared or anything, it was their first road game. I think it’ll help a little bit (for St. Joe’s).”

Wright knows the Cats (6-4) will have their hands full with the much-improved Hawks (7-3), who are riding the high of defeating then-No. 19 Creighton, 80-71, on Saturday at Hagan.

“I remember telling Phil after the game last year that these guards are going to be really, really good,” Wright said. “And Aiken is going to be really, really good. Adding the transfer kid (Halil Kanacevic). He’s tough. They have a really good team.”

Asked about Hawks big man C.J. Aiken, who averages 4.8 blocks per game, Wright said it’s Aiken’s perimeter defense that concerns him as much as his prowess on the interior.

“More than blocking shots that he blitzes ball screens out on the perimeter,” Wright said. “He is wide and keeps you in front of you out there. That’s what concerns me, him playing ball screens, as it does him blocking shots.”

For Wright, and all involved, it should be an exciting evening.

“It’s going to be wild,” Wright said.

-Praise for Temple: Wright commended Temple’s fans for their conduct in Saturday’s game. With hard feelings growing among Owls fans, some of whom blame Villanova for the Big East’s decision not to include Temple, there were no incidents.

“The Temple game, there was intensity there, a lot of stuff going on, (they were) pretty classy,” Wright said, likely referencing the Big East brouhaha with “stuff” comment. “I was impressed with that.

“The team played tough, their fans. Students were students. They didn’t say anything bad. They booed, (but) nothing nasty. I think we’ve got something pretty good here in Philly.”

**COMING FRIDAY: Barring any technical setbacks, Philahoops will roll out our new website on Friday.

Friday’s coverage will be jam-packed with stories advancing Saturday’s Holy War showdown between Saint Joseph’s and Villanova, as well as previews of Saturday’s games involving Drexel and Temple.

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