'Cats ready for Marquette
The men's basketball team is preparing for a critical game against Marquette this Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Marquette (17-4, 5-2 Big East) is currently ranked No. 18 in the nation and third in the Big East behind Georgetown and Syracuse.
The Golden Eagles are currently rallying behind a four game winning streak coming into this key conference matchup.
The last time the Wildcats (10-10, 3-5 Big East) faced off against the Golden Eagles, they lost a close one on the road in Milwaukee on New Year's Day, 81-77. Despite only being down 40-37 at halftime, the 'Cats could not make a run in the second half. The Golden Eagles rushed out to a 15-point lead which ultimately became too much for Villanova to overcome.
The key factor in the loss earlier this month was twofold: lackluster play at the beginnings of each half and a failure to suppress the offensive firepower of senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom and senior forward Jae Crowder.
Johnson-Odom is currently averaging 18.2 points per game for the Golden Eagles and played an instrumental role in the New Year's Day matchup a few weeks ago, when he dropped 24 points on the 'Cats.
Crowder, who scored seven points during a 9-0 run to open up the second half, will also be a problem for Villanova in the game this weekend.
"We didn't play 40 minutes but we did play the last four minutes of each half" Head Coach Jay Wright said of the loss against the Golden Eagles. "When you're talking about these things, that's not a good sign, but I do see signs of promise in this group."
In a thrilling matchup last season, the Wildcats defeated the Golden Eagles 75-70, due in large part to the effective post play of junior center Mouphtaou Yarou, who will again play a key role in the upcoming matchup.
However, the Wildcats will need to stay composed as Marquette is amidst a four game winning streak, most recently taking down the Providence Friars by a score of 79-72 this past Saturday.
Due to the consistent play of Johnson-Odom and Crowder as well as an unexpected 16 points off the bench from sophomore forward Jamil Wilson, the Golden Eagles were able to notch the victory.
After losing two games in a row to Georgetown and Syracuse, the Golden Eagles have posted wins against St. John's, Pitt, Louisville and Providence.
Currently, the Wildcats are sitting in 12th place behind Rutgers in the Big East standings, and now that they have finally made it back to .500, these next few games are going to decide their fate for both the regular season and postseason.
On the bright side, the Wildcats have posted strong performances in their most recent wins against Seton Hall and St. John's.
As of late, the team had been struggling to close out games, but in the 84-76 win over Seton Hall the 'Cats had a response for every late-game sign of life from the Pirates due to crucial 3-pointers from sophomore guard James Bell and a double-double-23 points and 11 rebounds-from freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston.
In an electrifying win over St.. John's, the Wildcats demonstrated once again that they can indeed close out a game.
Junior guard Maalik Wayns posted another great performance with 28 points, and junior guard Dominic Cheek tallied 20 points and seven rebounds.
While it certainly was not a flawless win with many turnovers down the stretch, Wayns was able to sink his free throws to close out the victory for the Wildcats.
Unfortunately, without a scholarship senior, Villanova is off to its worst start in Wright's 11 seasons.
The Wildcats' struggles are due partially to lack of identity for this team.
Historically in the Wright era, the Wildcats have always been bolstered by their strong guard play—Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher are all prime examples of this trend.
Now, Wayns, who has been on a scoring tear as of late with 39 points in the loss to Cincinnati and 92 points in his last three games, needs the rest of the team to step up.
In order for Villanova to finish the season on a positive note, solid guard play will be essential. But the question is, will Wayns have to carry the team himself or will his supporting cast step up to the plate?
In order to defeat Marquette, the guards must wrap their heads around the task of slowing down Johnson-Odom and preventing him from scoring in bunches.
In the game Saturday, expect Wayns and Johnson-Odom to continue playing at a high level and hopefully Pinkston can contribute another big game as well. The key to winning for the Wildcats will be to limit careless turnovers and to get out to an early lead as Villanova hopes to climb back up the very tall ladder of the Big East standings.
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