PORTLAND, Ore. — The Villanova Wildcats (2-2 overall) landed here Tuesday night as they brace for their first game action in Oregon State in 44 years when they headed to Iowa State’s Thanksgiving Day (3-0 overall ) meet at :30 p.m. Eastern Time at the Moda Center in the PK Invitational.
ESPN2 will cover the nationwide broadcast with Kevin Brown and Robbie Hummel on the sidelines. Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby will also be on hand for the Villanova Sports Network radio call.
Villanova last played here on December 30, 1978 in the Far West Classic, losing a 62-56 decision to Washington State (then coached by Wildcats legend George Raveling).
On Friday night, the Wildcats nearly recovered from a 16-point second-half deficit at No. 12 Michigan State before an offer for a game-winning 3-pointer bounced off the rim with 2.8 seconds left. They hope to build on a winning streak in November tournaments that includes a 22-3 record in such neutral site events with seven titles. Last season, Villanova defeated Tennessee before losing to Purdue in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic.
The Wildcats held a spirited practice Tuesday morning before departing west for the charter flight to Philadelphia International Airport later in the day. A training session was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at the Moda Center.
Red Shirt Junior Eric Dixon set the scoring pace for the early days for the ‘Cats with an average of 19.8 points per game. He set a career-high in points at Michigan State (24) while accumulating nine rebounds.
“There are many great teams in this area,” said the Villanova head coach Kyle Neptune an eight-team bracket that includes No. 1 North Carolina, No. 12 Michigan State, Connecticut, Alabama, Oregon, and the undefeated Cyclones. “We have a lot of younger guys and I think that gives us a lot of room to grow. We want to get better.”
The Wildcats will play three games in four days against elite opponents starting Thursday. They face either North Carolina or Portland on Friday and wrap up the event on Sunday with another clash by a group that includes Alabama, UConn, MSU and Oregon.
Neptune believes that the multiple days spent together can be a bonding experience for his unit.
“Our goal is always to be the best team we can be at the end of the season and that includes situations like this,” Neptun said. “Any time you get into a tournament situation where you have a good amount of games in a short amount of time it helps. You’re tired and you need to make sure you’re eating right, that you’re recovering, that you’re resting and attack the nearest opponent.
“This is a great opportunity for us to be in such a situation.”
The state of Iowa presents the first challenge on Thursday.
“They’re a great size, guts that are interchangeable,” Neptune said. “They’re really catching up defensively, they can put some pressure on you. They’re really good at half-pitch, changing the way they play guards. It’s a very well-trained side, they’re also attacking good things. They’ we’re a good team.”
But as always, Villanova is about Villanova.
“You have to give our guys credit for being extremely resilient this year,” Neptune said. “We were down in every game except (La Salle) and played through to the end. I think if we can keep that mindset and tweak a few things, we can keep getting better.”