For the last two months, Jay Wright has been looking for moments in games that his young Villanova team could own as a collective experience to help it down the road.
Last month’s upset of No. 1 Kansas was the first. The next, and one just as important as the performance against the Jayhawks, took place Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd of more than 17,000 in Omaha where the 16th-ranked Wildcats (11-3, 2-1 Big East) rallied from 14 points down and defeated Creighton.
“During tough times, you refer back to those games,” Wright said Friday after the conclusion of the final practice before Saturday’s Big East game against Georgetown (11-5, 1-2) at the Wells Fargo Center.
“Sometimes you even watch those games to see how you executed and you remind yourself and each other of how you executed in those situations. You can talk about that all you want, but if you have tangible video to go back to, or experiences to go back to, it really helps.”
The contributors were many. Collin Gillespie scored seven of his game-high 24 points in a closing 16-5 run. Saddiq Bey hit the go-ahead three-point basket with less than 3 minutes remaining. Freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds, including a vital offensive board that extended a possession in the final minute.
“We’re a young team, so just to have as many experiences as we can will really help us down the stretch,” said Bey, a sophomore. “I think it was just a great learning experience for us and showed we can battle back even when it gets tough. So I think it was great.”
The Wildcats have had to rely on their defense lately to make up for atypically bad three-point shooting. They went 6-of-33 -- 2-of-28 by players not named Gillespie -- from distance against Creighton. In their last six games, they are shooting 24.9% from beyond the arc.
It reminded Wright of one of his favorite expressions: “Shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets.”
“You can’t be afraid to take the criticism,” he said. “People are saying, ‘Hey, you’re not making them, why don’t you stop shooting them?’ Or they’re saying, ‘Hey, you haven’t made a three in two games, what’s wrong with you?’ That’s really what sleeping in the streets means. You’ve got to be willing to take that. If you’re not mentally tough enough to take that, you can’t be a good shooter.”
After scoring more than 70 points in nine of their first 10 games, the Cats haven’t hit 70 in their last four, but they’ve allowed an average of 61.8 points during that stretch.
Georgetown has undergone changes since the beginning of the season. The Hoyas lost four scholarship players in early December, including 2018-19 Big East rookie of the year James Akinjo, who transferred to Arizona. Sophomore forward Josh LeBlanc, a member of last year’s all-freshman team in the conference, and two first-year players in the program left amid sexual harassment allegations.
With head coach Patrick Ewing employing mainly a seven-man rotation, the Hoyas are 7-2 since the players departed. Wright said the roles of the holdovers have become more prominent.
“That’s actually helping in some way,” Wright said. “You can’t negate the fact that more depth would help them. But you can’t eliminate the fact that they are getting into a rhythm and are playing really well.”