SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Desperate situations make for, well, dangerous teams.
Villanova, which basically has been playing for its NCAA Tournament seeding the past few weeks, found that out Saturday against Georgetown, which still harbors some hope of getting into the 65-team field.
The 11th-ranked Wildcats encountered another such wounded animal last night at the Joyce Center.
Notre Dame, which at one point lost seven straight (all but one to ranked opponents), was simply trying to get on the proverbial bubble. The Wildcats were looking to avoid their first losing streak in 13 months.
The Fighting Irish, who came in 3-8 against Top 25 clubs, needed another quality win. That doesn't mean they wanted it any more. Still, urgency often counts for something.
Or not. At least not this time.
The Wildcats used a 16-1 spurt to turn a one-point lead with 11 minutes left into a gimme. The final was 77-60, which should make the Selection Committee forget about the Georgetown hiccup in a hurry.
The Wildcats (24-6, 12-5 Big East) can now finish no worse than fifth in the standings. And they could still get the fourth spot (with a lot of help), which would get them a double bye into the conference quarterfinals.
But for that to happen, they must first do their part Thursday by winning the regular-season finale against Providence - still one more squad in need of victories - at the Pavilion, where they haven't lost in more than 2 years. They beat the Friars up there on Feb. 4 by three.
"We never get caught up in [potential ramifications]," coach Jay Wright said. "They do a great job with that. This was huge. That's the tough thing about this league, this season. You didn't want to lose two in a row going into Providence. We could have played well tonight and lost. Then, your back's against the wall. That just makes it tougher.
"Our seniors have gotten us right back up, every time we got knocked to the ground."
Those four guys - Dante Cunningham, Shane Clark, Dwayne Anderson and Frank Tchuisi - have also won 96 games, a program record for one class. And they're probably not through.
"That's never been us [to look ahead or behind]," Clark said. "We go into each game the same way. At the end of the year, we'll look back and see how far we got."
Nobody had led by more than five until the Wildcats' decisive run. Scottie Reynolds, who like most of his teammates was coming off a rough performance, pretty much got them to that point. Then it was Cunningham who made four straight baskets to get things started. And Clark scored 11 of his 13 in the final 10 minutes.
For the second straight game, they came up with some serious defense. This time, the offense followed.
"We just found a way," said Reynolds, who had a team-best 23 points. "It feels unbelievable. We looked at the good things we did against Georgetown, and played together. Once that game was over, you can't worry about it anymore. Now, Notre Dame's over. It's on to the next game. It's the same thing every time.
"This was great, but we want to keep getting better. We could have gone in the tank. We've been in that situation before. We just kept saying on the bench, 'Get stops.' "
The Irish (16-13, 7-10), who'd won four of their last six, were coming off a close loss at Connecticut. One thing they can do is score. But they went a little more than 5 minutes without a point, and nearly 7 without a field goal, when it counted most. Villanova had a little to do with that.
"That's our best defensive game in a long time," Wright said. "Coming in here, you don't know. I'm worried. We might have some clunkers, but we never quit. They always respond like this."
Reynolds shot 8-for-12, 6-for-7 from the arc. He also had six rebounds, five assists, two steals and only one turnover in 39 minutes. Cunningham went 8-for-18, to go with eight boards. And Reggie Redding was a big reason why Kyle McAlarney, who burned the Wildcats big-time last season in South Philly, had just one bucket in the last 39 minutes.
Luke Harangody got 18 points and seven rebounds for Notre Dame, but was never able to take over. Germantown Academy's Ryan Ayers did his best by shooting 8-for-12, 7-for-10, but his 25 points weren't nearly enough.
"Something our team's really good at is, we never dwell on a loss," Cunningham explained. "It's, 'OK, we need to get better.' That's what's great about this team. We have setbacks sometimes, but we come back hard and get better."
Wright has insisted from the get-go that his biggest concern was not allowing one loss to turn into two. His group is hardly perfect, but that's a philosophy they obviously have taken to heart.
"The main goal is to just be consistent," Reynolds said. "You can't be hitting shots and winning, and if you're not it's a loss. Then you'll be a .500 team. Our experiences together do a lot of things for us."
Nothing desperate about it. But definitely dangerous. *