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No. 23 Villanova hopes to regain its shooting eye on its home court against No. 18 Xavier

The Wildcats shot a combined 28.2% in back-to-back 20-point losses at Baylor and Creighton. Coach Jay Wright said his players have kept an "amazing" attitude. The Musketeers have won seven straight.

Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels (23) blocks the shot of Baylor guard James Akinjo (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Dec. 12 in Waco, Texas.
Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels (23) blocks the shot of Baylor guard James Akinjo (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Dec. 12 in Waco, Texas.Read moreRay Carlin / AP

After coming off one of its more miserable weeks in recent memory, Villanova needs to be able to see the ball go into the basket on a consistent basis and regain some confidence.

The Wildcats (7-4, 0-1), who slipped from No. 9 to No. 23 in this week’s Associated Press rankings after back-to-back 20-point defeats, have a chance to regroup Tuesday night in the friendly confines of Finneran Pavilion against No. 18 Xavier (11-1, 1-0) in a Big East contest.

The Cats made just 28.2% of their shots in losses at Baylor (57-36) and Creighton (79-59) and needed 50 attempts to make 10 three-pointers (20%) in the two games. They dished out a mere nine assists combined, an added factor in the offense’s struggles.

Going back to the team’s Dec. 7 win over Syracuse despite shooting 32.5%, Villanova has dropped seven points in scoring (79.6 per game to 72.6), and in field-goal percentage (46.6% to 41.7%, last in the Big East) and three-point shooting (42.2% to 36.2%).

» READ MORE: Villanova made some bad history during the past week with a pair of 20-point road losses

Instead of one big reason for the slump, coach Jay Wright called it “a lot of little things.”

“We were really pleased with our defense against Baylor and our offensive execution was poor,” he said Monday in a Zoom call after practice. “Then we spent some time in practice on our offensive execution and we go to Creighton and our defense is poor.

“When you’re doing that on the road and back-to-back games on the road, all those little things build up. So you can’t overreact to them. You’ve just got to keep trying to improve on every aspect of everything you do.”

Wright also said the offensive flow was hampered by poor decisions on the choice of shots.

“You’ve got a chance to drive it or shoot it, you have options in different situations, and we seemed to pick the wrong options,” he said. “So it wasn’t a matter of making better passes. It was a matter of, if you make the right decision on the shot, the guy that threw you the pass would have gotten an assist. We sometimes made poor decisions on our shots.”

Wright described the attitude of his players as “amazing” and that they remain confident. Fifth-year senior forward Jermaine Samuels agreed.

“Everyone’s responded pretty well,” Samuels said. “It definitely isn’t easy losing games like that back to back. We all took responsibility for it including me and Collin [Gillespie] and Justin [Moore] as captains and just move forward. We have to stay committed to Villanova basketball. It may not look pretty right now but that’s the journey of the season.”

Xavier, winner of seven straight games, is the next obstacle on that journey. The Musketeers sport one of the deepest teams in the conference with each member of their eight-man rotation averaging between 6.0 and 13.3 points. In their last six contests, six different players have led the team in scoring.

The Musketeers also play some defense, allowing 61.3 points and 37.9% shooting (both second in the Big East), and they rebound (plus-9.5 margin, first).

Xavier’s sixth man is 7-foot junior center Jack Nunge, a transfer from Iowa, who posted a 31-point, 15-rebound game on Dec. 11 against Cincinnati. Nunge averages 13.0 points, 7.8 rebound and 1.67 blocked shots, and the Wildcats have struggled with big men from Baylor and Creighton in their last two games.

Because of COVID-19 cancellations last season, the Wildcats and Xavier did not meet. Wright said what he sees now is “depth of experience and continuity.”

“They look very efficient and very much in sync,” he said. “They just look like a well-oiled machine. And I thought they were good last year. I just didn’t get to see them in person but I think they were that way last year. They just took another step. The addition of Nunge is really important for them too, and it seems like he’s fit in seamlessly.”

Wildcats junior guard Bryan Antoine, who suffered a patella tendon injury in his right knee in preseason, made his season debut Friday night at Creighton. He did not score in almost seven minutes of playing time off the bench.