The obvious response for Villanova after Wednesday night’s upset loss at Georgetown is not to panic. After all, the Wildcats have equaled the number of Big East road defeats – three – from last season, which ended with another national championship.
However, this would appear to be much more concerning. The 17th-ranked Cats’ three road losses have come consecutively. The latest came on a night when they made only 9 of 38 three-point shots (23.7 percent) and, just as noticeably, didn’t match the Hoyas’ energy from the tipoff.
“I think they came out and punched us in the mouth first,” senior guard Phil Booth said Friday after practice at the Davis Center. “It took some time for us to adjust to it, but they played very hard. On film, you could see the little things they did better than us, like offensive rebounding. That kind of put us in the hole.”
The Wildcats (20-7, 11-3 Big East) finish up a stretch of three straight away games Sunday at Xavier (14-13, 6-8) where a sellout crowd will be rocking. They must go into the Cintas Center with more intensity than they displayed a few days ago, according to coach Jay Wright.
“We just kind of went up and down and made shots and missed shots,” he said. “We didn’t have the intensity that I’d like us to play with. I don’t care about them being emotional and jumping around, but I want to see intensity in how we play, and I just didn’t think we played with our normal intensity.”
Other concerns were evident. More than 58 percent of the Wildcats’ field-goal tries came from beyond the arc. A third scorer to step up and supplement the output of Booth and Eric Paschall did not materialize. And the inconsistency that surfaced at St. John’s, where the Cats gave up a 19-point lead, continued.
Wright said the three road losses were different. Villanova came back from 15 down at Marquette and had a chance to win on the last possession. The team had a great opening 12 minutes against St. John’s and then relaxed while its opponent “kept grinding," he said. And the Cats led for all of 119 seconds against the Hoyas.
“I just think we’re not the team yet that we want to be,” he said. “I think the three road losses are more indicative of where we are as a team right now in relation to those teams. … It’s just indicative of the inconsistency of this team right now. That’s what we’re trying to build on, is our consistency.”
The Wildcats last played Xavier on Jan. 18 and picked up an 85-75 win at the Wells Fargo Center. That began a six-game losing streak for the Musketeers, but they have turned their season around by winning their last three.
“They’re just playing together, they’re clicking now,” Paschall said. “At the end of the season, everybody’s getting better or learning how to get better. They’ve definitely done that and are playing at a high level.”
Xavier has received great play of late from sophomore forward Naji Marshall, who scored a career-high 28 points in his team’s win Wednesday night at Seton Hall, and junior forward Tyrique Jones, who had nine offensive rebounds in last month’s game against ‘Nova.
That’s another area of concern for Villanova, which had more offensive rebounds than Georgetown but saw the Hoyas control that end of the court for much of the night.