As Villanova was going through the closing stages of what would be a 10-0 start in Big East Conference play, its coach noticed some warning signs – a little slide here on defense, a little struggle there with shooting.
So by the time his team arrived Saturday for its much-anticipated game at Marquette, a battle of the league’s first- and second-place teams, Jay Wright saw “a lot of little things” that would lead to their 66-65 defeat, breaking an 11-game winning streak, their initial conference loss.
“We haven’t been playing well the last couple of games,” Wright said Tuesday. “Look at where we were at the beginning of the year. It’s kind of where we are as a team. We’re not a great team. We’re just trying to keep getting better every night. I think some of our warts cost us in that game. I don’t think they’re all gone yet but we just need to keep getting better.”
The 13th-ranked Cats (19-5, 10-1 Big East) return home Wednesday night for a matchup against Providence (14-10, 4-7). Wright addressed items such as boxing out on rebounds and attention to detail on defense the last two days, some areas of concern that date back a couple of weeks.
“We kind of started talking about it after the [Jan. 30] DePaul game, got a little sloppy,” he said. “We stopped making progress. We were making good progress, we kind of got a little stale. We’re trying to get out of it.
“It’s just a lot of little things. It’s shot selection, execution offensively. It’s really been the last three games now. The two games before that we just didn’t play well.”
Wright said the Wildcats were fortunate last week against Creighton. The Bluejays’ Kaleb Joseph went to the line for three free throws with 37.1 seconds left but made just one to tie the game, and the Wildcats won in overtime.
The Wildcats lately haven’t been shooting well. In the last three games, they have hit 40 percent of their overall field-goal attempts and 29.8 percent of their three-point shots, with leading scorer Phil Booth just 4 of his last 22 from deep. Problems at the free-throw line go back five games, during which the Cats are 60 of 96, or 62.5 percent.
Against Marquette, Villanova missed 12 of its first 14 attempts from deep, and sank just 10 of 15 foul shots in the game.
Booth said opposing defenses have come out and strongly guarded the Cats at the three-point line.
“They’re making it tough on us,” he said, “so we’ve just got to keep shooting, take good shots, and live with the result.
On free throws, Booth said, “We’ve just got to keep getting shots up, keep working on it. We’ve just got to stay focused on it.”
The Friars, who lost 65-59 last month to the Wildcats in Providence, got everyone’s attention with a 70-56 win Saturday over St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. In conference games, they’re leading the Big East in offensive rebounds and turnovers forced, two areas where they gave ‘Nova trouble in their first meeting.
“They’re playing their older guys a lot more, so they’re playing like a physical, older team, which makes them really dangerous,” Wright said. “So I think they’ve improved a lot. Their defense has really improved, playing older guys. So they look really good.”