It was a delightful homestand for Villanova: 12 days, four games, four victories, 85% free-throw shooting, and a ridiculous 81-point advantage from the three-point arc.
Now the ninth-ranked Wildcats (15-3, 5-1 Big East) take to the road for the next two games and eight of their last 13 in the regular season. That will start Saturday at Providence (11-9, 4-3), a familiar Big East outpost where the Dunkin’ Donuts Center will be packed and cries of “Shut up, Jay!” will be frequent.
Defense always helps away from home, and the Cats, who have won 11 of their last 12 games, have gradually improved on that end of the court. They have allowed a league-low 65.7 points per game in Big East contests. They’ve limited their last four opponents to 19 threes and 27.5% shooting from deep.
The offense, however, has coach Jay Wright a little concerned. Villanova is still trying to find the right balance on when to pull up for a three-pointer and when to go to the rim. The team shot a robust 43.8% on threes during its homestand but just 40% from inside the arc.
Wright liked the balance a little better in Tuesday night’s 76-61 win over No. 13 Butler. Though they shot just 38.9% on two-point shots against the Bulldogs, the Wildcats attempted 23 free throws, making 21.
“We got to the foul line. We took the ball to the basket pretty well against Butler,” Wright said Thursday, “but then other nights we fall in love with the three. I thought we did a good job against Butler getting the ball inside better. So it’s really balanced is what it is.
“We need to do both on all nights. We need to have an inside game, a post-up game, a drive game and shoot the threes — and make them. We shoot them, but we haven’t been making them. If you look at our percentages, they’re not great, but we have found a way each night to get one part of that good enough for us to win. We’ve got to get consistency.”
Ballhandling and rebounding will be two keys against Providence, which lost Wednesday night to No. 10 Seton Hall, the Friars’ third defeat in their last four games.
The Friars average 9.1 steals and 16 turnovers. They grabbed 19 offensive rebounds against Seton Hall and lead the Big East in that department at 13.9 per game.
Offensively, however, Providence has struggled, ranking near the bottom of the conference in points scored (71.3 per game, ninth) and field-goal percentage (40.5%, 10th). Coach Ed Cooley said his team’s offensive struggles have put pressure on the defense.
The Friars do have a rising star in sophomore guard David Duke, who scored 36 points last week at Creighton and shoots 46% from three-point range.
“He’s really become an efficient offensive player,” Wright said. “His defense was always good; now his defense is great and he’s become an outstanding offensive player. He used to be like a setup point guard. He’s big. He’d set the team up. He’d get them in their offense. Now, he can really score and really shoot it.”
The game will reunite Cooley, the head coach of the bronze medal-winning Team USA at last summer’s Pan American Games, with team members Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels of Villanova. On Thursday’s Big East coaches’ call, Cooley called the two players “wonderful young men to coach and be around, very tough kids, tough-minded men [who] contributed to us big time.”
Wright was pleased to hear of Cooley’s comment.