Four weeks ago, Villanova was embarrassed on its own court by Big East newcomer Creighton. It now gets a shot at returning the favor.
With Big East supremacy on the line, the No. 6 Wildcats make their first trip to Omaha on Sunday looking to avenge a 28-point loss to the 18th-ranked Bluejays.
"It was a great learning experience for us to know that we had to get a lot better defensively," Villanova coach Jay Wright told the school’s official website.
"And we had to get better offensively, believe it or not. We had to find ways on nights when we weren’t making shots, to score. I think it helped us to develop our inside game and we’ve worked a lot on our transition defense. I am still not convinced it’s good enough yet, but this is going to be a test."
It likely won’t be good enough if the Wildcats (22-2, 10-1) have to watch Creighton (20-4, 10-2) light it up from long range again.
Led by forward Ethan Wragge’s career-high 27 points and nine 3-pointers, the Bluejays went 21 of 35 from beyond the arc in the 96-68 win in Philadelphia on Jan. 20. All-American Doug McDermott added 23 points and Jahenns Manigat scored a career-high 19.
James Bell led Villanova with 19 points.
Since the first meeting, the Wildcats have won six straight with the last four coming by an average of 20.2 points with a 51.8 percent shooting mark. Wednesday’s 87-62 win at DePaul was the final tune-up, and Villanova had an impressive shooting night of its own, connecting on 55.1 percent from the floor and 15 of 26 from 3-point range.
"People are talking about the Creighton game. It’s natural," Wright said. "When I’m watching the tape of our DePaul game, they are talking about the Creighton game during the DePaul (telecast). I was just really proud of our guys’ ability to get to the next game.
"This one for (the players) is easy – I know they’re going to concentrate on this one. But for a team to go in and concentrate like they did against DePaul is impressive to me."
Darrun Hilliard scored a season-high 22 points and Bell added 16.
Creighton’s most recent test had a little more excitement. McDermott hit a 3 with under a minute remaining to give the Bluejays a one-point lead Thursday in a 68-63 win at Butler that followed a loss at St. John’s on Sunday.
"It’s really good for us because we had to grind one out," said coach Greg McDermott, Doug’s father, who won his 100th game at the school. "We had a chance at St. John’s and we didn’t get it done. Tonight, Doug hit the 3 that he missed the other night and we made the free throws that we missed the other night."
After two close road games, they now return to a friendlier environment. The Bluejays are 13-0 at home, winning those games by an average of 20.0 points. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are 8-1 in true road games with their only loss coming at unbeaten Syracuse.
Villanova is 2-1 against ranked opponents this season, while Creighton’s only ranked opponent so far has been the Wildcats. Prior to that win, the Bluejays had dropped their last 11 against teams in the Top 25.
Villanova leads the all-time series 3-1 will all four meetings taking place in Philadelphia.