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Villanova coach Jay Wright concedes team is 'worn down'

Jay Wright has heard various forms of the question throughout Villanova's successful 2016-17 regular season, which mostly has featured a rotation of seven men or fewer.

Jay Wright has heard various forms of the question throughout Villanova's successful 2016-17 regular season, which mostly has featured a rotation of seven men or fewer.

Are your players tired?

On Saturday, after weeks of rejecting the idea, the coach came clean - sort of - following the Wildcats' 79-63 senior day victory over Creighton at the Pavilion.

"I know you [reporters] have asked a lot, do I think we're getting worn down with seven guys, 61/2 guys, and I've said, 'I don't think so, I think we can do it,' " Wright said. "I've got to answer your question, but it just doesn't do us any good saying we're worn out. It's not an excuse. Other teams have things to deal with. But I get that we haven't been pretty.

"Are they tired? Yeah. Are they worn down? Yeah. But it doesn't matter. Other teams have got stuff, too. It's not the reason you lose. It can't be the reason you lose. Maybe you were tired and you didn't concentrate, or we didn't defend, or we didn't rebound. That's what happened, and that's the way we look at it.

"So I wasn't trying to [deceive] you, I was just saying, whether you're tired or not, you've still got to get it done, and these guys did it."

Senior Josh Hart, the team leader in minutes at 33.4 per game, said it's a matter of mentally fighting through fatigue.

"Everyone's fatigued at this time of year," he said. "You can have that every day except for game day. You can have that in a practice, or extra minutes in the cold tub. But when it's in the game, 40 minutes, that's all mental. You just have to be mentally strong to push through that wall when you hit it."

The short bench hasn't affected the team's profile much. The Wildcats (27-3), who have clinched their fourth straight Big East regular-season title, have been ranked No. 1 for seven weeks, never have been ranked lower than fourth, and as of now are a lock to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Wright this season had planned to use nine players, a number that dropped after highly touted freshman Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible in September by the NCAA. The eight-man rotation lasted just three games, when junior guard Phil Booth last played on Nov. 17 before being sidelined with left knee inflammation.

Then there were seven, until starting forward Darryl Reynolds, the team's best interior defender and rebounder, suffered a rib injury against Georgetown on Feb. 7. He has missed the last five games and is not assured of playing in the rematch Saturday against the Hoyas.

Wright went with essentially six players against Xavier and Butler. Freshman forward Dylan Painter played double-digit minutes in the other three games.

Wright has held lighter practices given the lack of available players, but he admitted that he got a little carried away in the two days of practice before last week's loss to Butler. The Wildcats took part in hard sessions with the participation of Daniel Ochefu, the center on last year's championship team, who was on his all-star break from the Washington Wizards.

"We haven't been able to have really hard practices, and I kind of got excited having him in there," Wright said. "I think we might have practiced too hard given our six guys. We had two vicious, great practices, but it doesn't do you any good when it tires you out for the game. Plus, I didn't play Dylan enough; I could have gotten him in there more.

"The No. 1 reason for the loss was that Butler came in and played better than us. I don't want to take that away. They played their butt off. I can't control what Butler does - they played great - but I could have been smarter with those two practices."

The Wildcats have this week off before closing their regular season Saturday at Georgetown. Then they will face what could be a three-games-in-three-days grind in the Big East tournament if they go the limit. Fatigue could be a problem, and Wright will be asked about it, and he'll make no excuses.