After a disheartening loss to lowly Providence, Villanova took care of business by dispatching the two teams with the worst records in the Big East, DePaul and South Florida.
Now life for Jay Wright and his players gets more stressful, with road contests Tuesday at No. 17 Cincinnati and Saturday at Connecticut.
Saturday’s 68-40 rout of South Florida at the Pavilion was a good way to get in the right frame of mind. The Wildcats picked up season lows on the defensive end for fewest points (40), field goals (11), three-point baskets (one) and field-goal percentage (23.4).
Villanova shot 65 percent from the field to race out to a 23-point halftime lead and never allowed the Bulls any notion of getting back into the game.
But DePaul, which lost Tuesday to the Wildcats 94-71, and USF have a combined two wins in the Big East. Cincinnati and UConn entered weekend play with 11 between them.
The thought is that if the Wildcats have any designs on playing in the NCAA tournament, they’ll have to finish at a minimum 9-9 in conference play. And there aren’t any easy games in there, and that includes Rutgers at home (Feb. 18) and Seton Hall on the road (Feb. 25).
But first things first, and Wright’s only looking at the next game, not beyond.
“I think we said this after (defeating) Syracuse, how you play on the road in this league really shows what you’re all about,” the Villanova coach said. “So we’ve got to go in to Cincinnati and we’ve got to do it. I didn’t think we were bad at Notre Dame but we weren’t good enough and we realize that. We realize we’ve got to get better.
“We’ve got to get better from today, and what we do on the road will prove what kind of team we are. You’ve got to win on the road in this league and it’s tough. So it’s one at a time, Cincinnati right now and it’s going to be a tough one. But we’re feeling good and we like playing on the road. This group, I think, has played well on the road.”
The Cats are 5-4 on the road this season and 2-3 in the Big East, having defeated South Florida and DePaul in league play away from home.
If anything, the last two games have been important to ‘Nova’s confidence.
“I think we’re really communicating well defensively and playing as a unit, and that takes time,” Wright said. “I think you’re starting to see a team that’s really comfortable playing together and playing off each other. That’s what good teams do.”
Wright singled out the leadership of senior Mouphtaou Yarou and the play of freshmen Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu.
Arcidiacono, who went for 23 against DePaul, took just four shots and scored three points Saturday. But he limited USF’s Anthony Collins, one of the Big East’s best point guards, to two points, one assist and three turnovers.
“I didn’t have to say this to him,” Wright said of Arcidiacono, “but I’m sure he came into the game saying, ‘I’m shutting this kid down. This kid runs everything they do. Then if I get shots, I get shots.’
“He had zero (points) at halftime but he just did an outstanding job on Collins. You see how tough (Collins) is to guard. That was just an incredible effort by him.”
Nova Notes. South Florida played without junior forward Victor Rudd, its top scorer with a 10.7-point average, who sat out with a groin injury. ... The Wildcats went 7 for 13 (53.8 percent) from three-point range and now are 12-0 this season when they connect on six or more three-pointers. … If you combined the second half of the DePaul game (22 of 32 from the field) with the first half of Saturday’s contest (13 of 20), the Wildcats drained 67.3 percent of their shots in back-to-back period. … The 40 points scored by the Bulls were the fewest Villanova ever had allowed to a Big East opponent, the previous low being 42 to St. John’s on Feb. 16, 2008 at Madison Square Garden.