'Nova's Booth still hopes to return, but likelihood is diminishing

Injured Villanova player Phil Booth walks out on the court before their game against La Salle at the Palestra on Dec. 6, 2016.

Nine games remain in the regular season for top-ranked Villanova after its non-conference matchup against No. 12 Virginia on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. With each game that passes by, the likelihood of guard Phil Booth's returning to the court for the Wildcats is diminishing.

Booth, however, remains hopeful. After watching his teammates practice Friday, the 6-foot-3 junior said his left knee was "feeling better" and "coming along pretty well."

The big question: Will he play again this season?

"Yeah, there's a chance," Booth said. "I'm getting better, trying to work out a little bit, trying to get stronger. We'll see where it goes. It's based on when I get to 100 percent, and we don't know when that is."

Ah, that's the issue. Booth, who scored a team-high 20 points in last season's national championship game, played in the first three games this season, the last one on Nov. 17. Since then, he has watched from the bench in street clothes with inflammation of the left knee, which underwent arthroscopic surgery on May 4.

The original projected rehabilitation was six to eight weeks. But the current pain, which he said wasn't as bad as the pain he felt late last season, remains. Booth doesn't know when it will subside. Neither does coach Jay Wright, who is sounding more and more doubtful.

"I think he's getting leg strength, but he's still got pain," said Wright, who has made Booth promise to inform him when he feels pain while working out. "I'm going to leave it up to him, but the longer it goes, the worse it looks for the season.

"He has never been in a practice. So even if he gets to the point where he doesn't have pain, we're going to have to get him in practice for a week - two weeks maybe - before we can try to get him in a game."

As for a possible redshirt, Booth said he hasn't spoken much with Wright about it, but added that "it's something that's in the back of both of our minds, so we'll see when that time comes around."

Booth did sound as if he would try to come back late in the season to help his team attempt to repeat.

"We definitely have a shot; this is a very good team," he said. "I don't know when that real deadline is when I need to make a decision. But this team definitely is very good and can really play, so we'll see how the schedule looks as things go along."

A good test

Even though Virginia defeated Villanova last season in Charlottesville, Va., the Cavaliers (16-3) are "a team that I love to play because I feel they test you in every way," Wright said, adding that the teams' previous meeting "was as valuable [to us] as any game we played last year."

The test against Virginia will follow Tuesday night's game against Marquette in which the Wildcats (19-2) blew a 17-point second-half lead and lost, 74-72, despite trailing for only 22 seconds. Wright said he wanted to see more consistency on defense and a better mix on offense to drive the ball and get it to the post rather than settle for three-point shots.

Villanova's senior class of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds never has lost back-to-back games. Overall, they are 116-15.

While it's rare to have a non-conference game midway through the Big East schedule, Wright said he sees it as a reward.

"It's a reward to be able to play in front of a sold-out arena against one of the top teams in the country on national TV, and it's not affecting your league standings," he said. "The game is going to be beneficial to you, win or lose."