Despite losing 18 consecutive games to Villanova, DePaul always has had Wildcats coach Jay Wright’s attention, particularly in recent years when the Blue Demons twice almost walked out of the Pavilion – before and after the building’s renovation – with a victory.
It’s no different this season. In fact, it might keep Wright up a little bit longer before Tuesday night’s contest at Finneran Pavilion. The Blue Demons (12-4, 0-3 Big East) made an early statement with nonconference victories on the road at Iowa, Boston College, and Minnesota, and a home win over Texas Tech.
Although DePaul has yet to win in the Big East, it’s been in every game down to the wire, and Wright knows the Blue Demons will be ready to face the 14th-ranked Wildcats (12-3, 3-1).
“Look, they’ve almost beaten us in here a number of times,” Wright said Monday after practice. “That does not get past us. Every time we watch a DePaul game at home, it’s like, ‘Wow, we just squeezed that out.’ So we expect the same. We know how well they play us and we know how good they are this year.”
Two previous meetings were especially tight. The Wildcats needed a three-pointer by Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson’s two free throws in the final 10 seconds to pick up a 68-65 win on Dec. 28, 2016. Then last January, the Cats came back from 14 points down but still were in a one-possession game in the last minute before Phil Booth’s two free throws secured a 73-68 win.
DePaul has markedly improved on defense. Comparing their statistics at the end of last season with their current numbers through 16 games, the Blue Demons have improved their points allowed from 78.4 per game to 67.1, and their field-goal percentage defense from .466 to .388.
“They are all really well-connected and experienced,” Wright said. “They’re an experienced team. Early in the season, that really showed for them. When they went up to Iowa and you watched them play there, they looked like men playing in that game. I think that comes from having a bunch of experienced guys and adding [Charlie] Moore, who is a veteran.”
Moore, a junior point guard who played 17 minutes against Villanova in last season’s loss at Kansas, leads the Big East in assists at 6.8 per game. He played his freshman year at California, transferred to Kansas, sat out a year, played one season, and received a waiver to play this season at DePaul without having to sit out.
“I remember we played against him last year,” Wildcats guard Collin Gillespie said. “He can shoot the three, gets other guys shots and uses ball screens really well, so he’s really dynamic. We’re going to try to stop him, put different guys on him and guard him as a team.”
Villanova shot 15-for-29 from three-point range in Saturday’s 80-66 win over Georgetown, only the third time in its last 10 games that it recorded 10 or more baskets from distance. Saddiq Bey’s eight threes tied a school record shared by Kris Jenkins, Darrun Hillard, and Allan Ray.
“We all shoot every day, so there should be no fear when we shoot the ball,” Bey said. “I was just trusting in my ability and my teammates were trusting in me, so it was just a great feeling.”
Forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who averaged 10.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in wins over Creighton and Georgetown, was named Big East freshman of the week.
Villanova’s Mark Jackson has added vice president to his title as director of athletics, university president Rev. Peter M. Donahue announced Monday.