Villanova can't capitalize on defeating lowly Friars

Villanova's James Bell (right) knocks the ball away from Providence's Kris Dunn (center) in the second half. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)

This was the time for Villanova to make a move in the Big East.

The Wildcats had defeated No. 5 Louisville and third-ranked Syracuse to thrust themselves into the conversation for an NCAA bid. Though they lost at Notre Dame, the feeling was that they could come up with wins in their next three games against Providence, DePaul and South Florida, which had combined for four conference victories entering Sunday’s play.

But Villanova came up with a poor performance at the Pavilion where they lost for the fourth time this season. Providence won 55-52 on Bryce Cotton’s three-point basket with 2.2 seconds to play but the Wildcats played much of the game struggling on offense and failing to locate the Friars’ three-point shooters.

This was a game that Cats had to have. The Friars played with only nine men after 6-10 sophomore Sidiki Johnson, their first big man off the bench, took “a voluntary leave of absence,” the team said. Their starting frontcourt players, Kadeem Betts and LaDontae Henton, each of whom averages 14 points, combined for six points and 10 fouls while playing less than half the game.

Still, the Wildcats couldn’t capitalize, shooting 27.5 percent from the field and committing 18 turnovers in losing to Providence for the second time this season.

Their fan base left the Pavilion disappointed. Jay Wright doesn’t want his players to feel that way.

“I know what it looks like but we’re spending all our time telling our guys, ‘Don’t be disappointed,’” he said. “Human nature is, you play those two games (against Louisville and Syracuse), you think, ‘Hey, we’ve got it going.’ But we explain to them afterwards that we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

“We’re getting better. It’s not that I’m accepting this, I’m definitely not, and these guys will tell you I’m not. But I’m not letting them get frustrated on it. I know what it looks like and we’ve got to deal what it looks like because it is what it looks like.”

After Villanova’s defense sparked a 9-0 spurt that tied the game at 52-all with 42.9 seconds to play, the Wildcats did an effective job on Providence’s final possession. But they couldn’t grab the rebound on Vincent Council’s miss, and Josh Fortune tipped the ball back to Cotton, who drilled the game-winner for the Friars' 10th trey of the game.

“What upsets me more is the rebound,” Wright said. “You play that possession and part of a good defensive possession is finishing with the rebound. That’s what I’m saying, we had too many of those possessions. They only had nine offensive rebounds but the few that they had were huge. That’s what happens in close games.”

DePaul is next up for the Wildcats, up Tuesday night at the Rosemont Horizon. Thanks to their press, the Blue Demons are second in Big East games in forcing turnovers (15.5 average), while the Wildcats average 16.6 committed.

Nova Notes. Darrun Hilliard led the Wildcats with 17 points, making all 10 of his free throws but shooting just three of 12 from the floor. … Mouphtaou Yarou earned his fourth double-double of the season, with 10 points and 14 rebounds. … JayVaughn Pinkston, ‘Nova’s top scorer, sat out the first 10-plus minutes of the second half. “He was just struggling when they were playing smaller and quicker,” Wright said. “He was struggling defensively guarding their guards. I thought Daniel (Ochefu) was doing a great job with Mouph in the second half.” … The Wildcats had led at the half of 16 consecutive games before Sunday, when Providence took a 29-23 lead at the break.

--Joe Juliano