As Jay Wright spoke Tuesday about No. 18 Marquette, Villanova’s next opponent coming into Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday night, he mentioned that the team had won six of its last seven games.
He then smiled ruefully.
“They’re playing really well,” he said. “Everybody seems to be playing really well when they come here. Nobody comes in here slumping.”
That’s the way it’s been lately for the 15th-ranked Wildcats (17-6, 7-4 Big East), who have lost three straight games, all to teams currently in the top 25. Their defensive play hasn’t been good, allowing each of their last three opponents to score 70 or more points and shoot a collective 49.7% overall and 46.4% from three-point territory.
“It’s been different for us in different games,” Wright said. “The last couple of games have been defense, the Creighton game was offense. There’s just not a consistency yet as a team that we know we’re going to get a certain defensive effort every night, a certain offensive execution level each night. That’s an inexperienced team. We’ve got to get the consistency quick.”
Despite not getting the desired result, Villanova’s players remain confident, their coach said.
“I think their confidence is pretty good, I really do,” he said. “I think they’re realistic that we’ve played some good games. We just didn’t do some little things that get you the W but we’re going in a good direction. But when you lose, it’s tough, so you have to work on that attitude, and I think they’re doing a good job.”
“We’ve been having a couple of great days of practice just trying to make sure we’re getting better every day and not hang our heads,” sophomore Saddiq Bey said. “We’ve had a couple of tough games, but we’re just trying to keep going, keep getting better every day.”
The 6-foot-8 Bey has been the Cats’ best offensive player in the last two games, averaging 25.5 points on 56.3% shooting overall and 64.3% (9 of 14) from beyond the arc.
The Golden Eagles (17-6, 7-4) lead the Big East in scoring (78.2 points per game) and in three-point shooting (38.8%). They boast perhaps the best offensive player in the nation in senior guard Markus Howard, whose 27.4-point average leads Division I, as does his 7.3 made free throws per game and his 4.05 average on three-point baskets.
Howard needs 22 points to become the Big East’s all-time leading scorer in conference games, breaking the record of 1,405 set by Syracuse’s Lawrence Moten from 1991 through 1995.
Howard shot just 7 of 20 last month but went 12 of 12 from the line for a 29-point effort in Marquette’s 71-60 victory over 'Nova on Jan. 4. The Golden Eagles outscored the Cats from the line, 26-3.
“Offensively, we were shooting crazy threes," Wright said. "We just fell in love with the three and never got to the foul line. It’s been part of this season. I’m not critical of our guys. They have to get the experience of going through this and it’s what we’re doing.”