Villanova Wildcats

Villanova's Big East title hopes on the line tonight against Marquette

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Villanova's Big East title hopes on the line tonight against Marquette

Villanova is in uncharted territory. The Wildcats have lost three games in a row for the first time in six years. They've plummeted out of the Top 25 rankings and have seen their potential NCAA Tournament seeding take a massive hit. 

Not many people outside the Villanova program feel sorry for Jay Wright and company, given the Wildcats' historic run of success over the last five years. 

To make matters worse, the road ahead doesn't get any easier Wednesday night when 10th-ranked Marquette visits the Finneran Pavilion looking to complete a season sweep of Villanova and essentially lock up the Big East regular-season title. 

Here are the major storylines entering the biggest game of the season for both teams:

Villanova scuffling

The Wildcats' three-game losing streak has come entirely on the road. It began with a blown 19-point lead against St. John's on Feb. 17. Three days later, Villanova was thoroughly outplayed by a mediocre Georgetown team. Then there was last Sunday's 12-point loss at Xavier when the Wildcats went more than nine minutes in the second half without scoring. 

Villanova looks gassed. They hardly resemble the team that won 11 straight games from late December to early Februrary. Wright has largely relied on a seven-man rotation with the occasional appearance by freshman Jahvon Quinerly. The Wildcats won a lot of games with that pared down rotation but it seems to have caught up with them now. Villanova's two best players — seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall — are averaging 36 and 37 minutes per game, respectively, in Big East competition. Junior Collin Gillespie also averages well over 30 minutes per game in conference play. 

To his credit, Wright has tried to adjust. He's getting Booth, Paschall and Gillespie more rest early in games. But that strategy hasn't had the desired impact. Booth and Gillespie are really struggling with their outside shots. Booth is shooting just 20 percent from three-point territory in the last seven games, while Gillespie has converted just 19 percent of his three-point attempts in the last five games.  

Villanova thrives when they are making shots. When their best shooters are struggling to this extent, it can get ugly. 

Senior night

There should be plenty of electricity in the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday night. Villanova will honor its senior class prior to the last on-campus home game of the season. Booth and Paschall are the headliners  they will go down as two of the most accomplished players in program history. Both are two-time national champions who have been instrumental to the Wildcats' overwhelming recent success. 

Booth has played 140 career games. Villanova has a 122-18 record in those 140 games. He scored a team-high 20 points as a sophomore in the 2016 National Championship Game and was a driving force on the 2018 championship team, generally considered the best team in school history. 

Paschall has improved dramatically in his four years at Villanova after transferring from Fordham. He's having an outstanding senior season and has played his way onto the margins of being a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA draft. 

Emotions will be running high as Wright honors Booth, Paschall and the rest of the Villanova seniors. The Wildcats just have to channel that emotion properly to pull of a signature victory. 

Don't call it an upset

Despite riding a three-game losing streak and facing the top team in the Big East, Villanova is listed as a five-point favorite against Marquette. The Golden Eagles have won 16 of their last 17 games, including a 66-65 decision over Villanova earlier this month. They are led by the soon-to-be Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard, who averages more than 25 points per game and scored 38 points in that win over Villanova.  

Everything points to the Wildcats' struggles continuing. Everything except for the time-tested 'wounded animal' theory. It's one of the best adages in sports — nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal. And Villanova certainly fits the bill at the moment, coming off those three straight ugly losses and sitting a game and a half behind Marquette in the Big East standings with three games left in the regular season. 

A wounded animal comes out in attack mode when confronted. Expect to see that from Villanova on Wednesday night.

Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

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Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Carsen Edwards had a career night, scoring 42 points as Purdue knocked reigning national champion Villanova out of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night in an 87-61 rout.

Matt Haarms added 18 points and nine rebounds for the third-seeded Boilermakers (25-9), who advanced to their third straight Sweet 16.

Eric Paschall had 19 for Villanova (26-10), which saw its quest for a third national title in the last four seasons end during the tournament's first weekend. Fellow senior Phil Booth scored 15 points, putting him over 1,500 for his career.

Edwards has battled a sore back and had been in a recent shooting slump, making just 7 of 23 shots from the field in Purdue's first-round win over Old Dominion. He found the bottom of the net early and often against `Nova, making 12 of his 21 shots, including nine of 16 from behind the arc.

Purdue shot 54 percent while holding Villanova to just 20 baskets on 58 shots (34 percent).

Purdue jumped out early, building a 13-point lead thanks to Edwards' outside shooting and Haarms' work down low.

The 7-foot-3 Dutchman towered over the shorter Wildcats, who didn't start anyone over 6-8. He had Purdue's first four points on a dunk and a put-back. Edwards hit five of his nine first-half shots, all of which came from three-point range.

Purdue had nine three-point baskets in the first half and a dunk by Haarms put the Boilermakers up 43-24 at intermission.

Another dunk from the Dutchman extended the lead to 35 in the second half. Villanova chipped away but the sixth seeded Big East champions did not have weapons to make it a game.

Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

BOX SCORE

HARTFORD, Conn. — Villanova got off to a slow start in defense of its NCAA championship against a determined, defensive-minded Saint Mary's team that came in confident after a season-defining win.

But the Wildcats, a No. 6 seed in this NCAA Tournament after an up-and-down season, have one thing no team in the field of 64 has: a pair of leaders who have won two national titles.

 NPhil Booth scored 20 points, fellow senior Eric Paschell added 14 and Villanova held off 11th-seeded Saint Mary's 61-57 on Thursday night.

"We're growing, our young guys are growing, but we have two seniors who do everything for us, on and off the court," coach Jay Wright said. "We're just so lucky to have them."

Sophomore Jermaine Sameuls added 12 points for the Wildcats (26-9), who led for almost 33 minutes, but never by more than eight points.

"The tempo was excruciating," Wright said. "We felt going in we were going to have to grind with them."

The Gaels used the same slow pace to upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament, and it gave them a chance against Villanova (26-9) in a tense opening-round matchup.

Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts each had 13 points for Saint Mary's (22-12). Ford's basket in the lane after a few nifty moves got the Gaels within six points at 61-55 with 34 seconds left.

After Paschell missed a foul shot on the other end, Fitts cut the deficit to four points with a leaner in the lane. The Gaels had two more chances in the final seconds, but Fitts hit the rim on a 3-point attempt and Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey stole the ball from Ford in the final seconds to seal the win.

"We had a few games this year where we put the press on and were able to get back in the game," said Ford. "And if we get a few of those loose balls, or maybe make a three when we were down four, I think it's a different game."

Saint Mary's led 30-28 at the half, but Booth scored the first five points after intermission during a 12-3 run that put the Wildcats up 40-33. He had 12 points and five of his six assists in the second half.

"We weren't doing that bad, actually," Booth said. "It was more that they were playing very well and we were trying to match how they were bringing it. I think we just had to take it to another level, because they were playing at a high level."

Big picture

Villanova: The defending champions are in the tournament for the 14th time in 15 seasons and improved to 14-1 since 2016.

Saint Mary's: The Gaels are 4-6 in opening-round games in the NCAA Tournament and 5-10 overall. Saint Mary's has advanced to the Sweet 16 once in the modern era when it beat the Wildcats in 2010. There's a reminder of that run in the hallway outside the locker room that the players see as they walk out to practice each day in McKeon Pavilion.

Empty arena

The game tipped to a relatively empty arena, but it wasn't because nobody had bought tickets.

Fans of the Wildcats, many of whom made the 4-hour drive from Philadelphia to Hartford, Connecticut, were lined up along with Gaels fans behind metal detectors as security emptied the arena from the afternoon session.

"You worry about those things, you know?" Wright said. "We have a lot of guys in the NCAA Tournament for the first time thinking, `This is the NCAA Tournament?' There's no one in the stands."

By halftime, the 16,000-seat XL Center was nearing capacity, but some frustrated fans were sill filing in.

From distance

The game was billed as a battle between one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams in Villanova against some of the nation's best perimeter defenders. In the end, the Wildcats finished 8 of 20 from behind the arc, while Saint Mary's was 8 of 22.

On the boards

The taller Gaels won the rebounding battle 33-29 and 10-5 on the offensive end. The Wildcats didn't have an offensive board until the second half and that led to an 11-4 advantage for Saint Mary's in second-chance points. Wright said this year's team was hurt by the transfer of 6-foot-9 Dylan Painter, but is going to have to find a way against taller opponents.

Up next

Villanova will play No. 3 seed Purdue in the second round Saturday.