Villanova enters Xavier showdown seeking 3-point improvement - and more

St Johns Villanova Basketball
Villanova coach Jay Wright watches from the sideline during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against St. John’s, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Philadelphia.

CINCINNATI – Villanova appears to have lost its mojo from the three-point arc in recent games, but that’s not the only concern for the third-ranked Wildcats as they head into Cintas Center for Saturday’s showdown against No. 4 Xavier.

The Cats (23-3, 10-3), the Big East’s best three-point shooting team all season, made just 3-for-20 from three-point range in Wednesday’s 76-71 defeat at Providence. That was the lowest number of threes they had made in a game since hitting three against Georgetown on Jan. 16, 2016, breaking an 83-game streak of hitting four or more.

Villanova is shooting 17 of 71 from deep, a 23.9 percent mark, in its last three games. Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo have combined for 115 treys this season but didn’t make a single one against the Friars, who dealt the Cats their second loss in three games.

“I think the common thread has been good defensive teams that we haven’t adjusted to,” coach Jay Wright said Friday after practice. “It’s just the detail of making the extra pass, finding the open man, being ready to shoot when you catch the ball, just little things.”

Wright said “our attention to detail in every aspect” was the main disappointment from the Providence game, a fault that led to a season-high 19 turnovers and just four offensive rebounds.

“It was the little things in every area,” he said, “a couple of defensive rebounding situations, a couple [of problems] with transition defense, mostly turnovers, sloppy play and unintelligent fouls. It was just not being committed to the details of being a successful team.”

Brunson committed a season-worst seven turnovers in 33 minutes against the Friars. His previous seven turnovers had come over five games and 175 minutes.

“We’ve got to be solid with the ball and make sound decisions, smart plays,” Brunson said. “It’s making the right play. We all have to be on the same page. I feel like sometimes we try to get it back with one shot. I just think we have a long way to go but we have to keep getting better. That has to be our mindset every day.”

Attention to detail has to be keen against the red-hot Musketeers (24-3, 12-2), winners of nine straight, who lead the Wildcats by 1½ games in their bid to end Villanova’s run of four consecutive Big East regular-season championships.

In Xavier’s 102-90 win Wednesday over Seton Hall, senior guard Trevon Bluiett scored 37 points on eight three-point baskets (in 11 tries) and 13-of-13 free throws. Wright said Bluiett “is playing as well as anybody in the country right now.”

The Musketeers also are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, ranking 16th in rebound margin at plus-6.9. The Wildcats are minus-1.5 in that department against conference opposition and need to do a better job of hitting the boards as a group.

Another statistic of interest is that Villanova has gone 172 games since losing back-to-back contests, the longest current streak in the nation. Since dropping the final two games of the 2012-13 season, the Cats have gone 152-20 (.884) without losing two in a row.

“We never think about it,” Wright said. “After the game when someone mentions it, I am impressed. But it’s not something we worry about or strive for. We know we’ve got to play a lot better this next game.”