Villanova always has liked to make it rain three-point baskets, but the Wildcats’ output in the last two games has been more comparable to a downpour, events that have led to a pair of 20-point victories.
The Cats went 17-for-36 (47.2%) from beyond the arc Sunday at Temple, and followed it up with an 18-for-26 (69.2%) performance Wednesday night at DePaul. They fell short of the program record of 19 threes in a game, but their 35 is likely the most they’ve knocked down over two consecutive games.
Now, the 12th-ranked Wildcats (20-6, 9-4 Big East), winners of three straight, will be challenged Saturday when they take on Xavier at Cintas Center in Cincinnati. The Musketeers (17-9, 6-7) lead the conference in three-point defense, allowing opponents to make just 29.5% of their attempts from distance.
Villanova coach Jay Wright said Friday his team’s success from the arc is a matter of his young players feeling more comfortable with each other.
“I think it’s unselfishness and familiarity,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this all year. We’re starting to get a rhythm offensively where guys are getting used to their roles and our offense and playing together. That helps. When you’re comfortable and you’re in sync, I think that helps your shooting percentage.”
The Wildcats are shooting nearly 37% from three-point range, and five players hit more than one basket per game. Both Saddiq Bey and Collin Gillespie average 2.5 treys, with Bey (65) having one more basket than Gillespie.
Bey, a rapidly improving sophomore, is third in the nation in three-point percentage at 46.4%. But Wright is just as impressed with Bey’s passing: 12 assists in the last two games, including a career-high seven at DePaul.
Gillespie set the tone for the three-point explosion by going 7-for-11 against Temple and 5-for-8 vs. DePaul, boosting his rate from deep to 38.1%.
“It’s just being confident, catching to shoot, knowing that if you step in 1-2, you’re confident it’s going to go in and knock it down,” Gillespie said. “We have confidence in all our guys, so we’re just sharing the ball and getting guys open shots.”
The Wildcats were just 7-for-25 from three in their 68-62 victory over Xavier on Dec. 30 at Finneran Pavilion. Wright said the Musketeers’ length is a problem to deal with at the arc.
“They stay in position and use their length,” he said. “They don’t get overextended, so they’re always in position to contest you. When they contest you, they’re long at every spot. So another team could have that same scheme but it wouldn’t work as well because they don’t have that length.”
Xavier has four starters 6-foot-7 or taller. The Wildcats can match that when 6-9 Cole Swider starts, but Wright has gone with 6-4 guard Justin Moore as his fifth starter in the last five games.
Xavier has one of the league’s dominant rebounders in 6-9 senior Tyrique Jones, who is atop the Big East with 11.3 rebounds per game and 18 double-doubles. He also averages more than four offensive rebounds per game.