Villanova misses Phil Booth for his shooting, his passing, his leadership and the way he keeps the offense running smoothly whenever he’s in the game.
But as Jay Wright points out, Booth also is missed at the defensive end, especially in knowing where to go when defending the perimeter, particularly the three-point arc.
With Booth sitting out because of a broken bone in his right hand, the top-ranked Wildcats (20-1, 7-1 Big East) were inconsistent guarding Marquette’s three-point shooters, giving up 11 treys Sunday in a hard-fought 85-82 win on the road. They return home Thursday night to face Creighton, which averages 10.5 threes per game.
“It’s probably the two worst matchups you can get right away,” Wright said Wednesday after practice.
“We learned [Sunday] that we missed Phil and it’s defensively. We’re just not as good defensively. That’s what we’re practicing without Phil. We needed to get better defensively with Phil. In our system, when we’re young, we get mostly hurt defensively.”
In Booth’s indefinite absence, Donte DiVincenzo goes from sixth man to starter and the two top bench players are freshmen – guard Collin Gillespie and forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Wright said the two rookies picked up “great experience” on Sunday. Gillespie ended a vital Marquette possession in the final minute with a steal.
“Collin started a little shaky but he got really tough defensively, did a really good job, was really proud of him,” Wright said. “Every minute we get Dhamir and Collin on the floor is helpful for us.”
It’s up to the veterans, like junior Mikal Bridges, to make sure the perimeter defense is solid.
“It’s just us knowing personnel and basically playing off each other, stepping up for one another,” Bridges said. “If one messes up, just make sure the other guy is going to step up for him. We know we have to keep getting better, get dialed in to every single detail.“
The Bluejays (17-5, 7-3) have five players who have hit at least 20 threes. Their main offensive threat is -6-foot-3 senior guard Marcus Foster, who has averaged 24.8 points in his last four games and is third in the league overall at 19.9 per game. He is third in three-point baskets (3.0 per game) and fourth in shooting from deep (44.9 percent).
“He’s as explosive and complete as anybody in our conference,” Wright said. “He can play in the post, he can play on the perimeter, he drives it, he shoots threes, he’s got a mid-range game. He’s complete. Whatever you take away, he’s got an answer.”
This will be the first of four consecutive Wells Fargo Center games for the Wildcats, who have played just seven of their first 21 games at home.
Creighton hasn’t played in South Philadelphia since Jan. 20, 2014 when it conducted an epic three-point shooting demonstration, making 21 from beyond the arc, in a 96-68 decision that remains the most lopsided defeat in Wright’s 17-year head coaching tenure at ‘Nova.
“That game I remember, that was incredible,” Wright said. “When Butler hit 17 threes on us this year, it reminded me of that game.”