Villanova looks to avoid letdown against DePaul

PHILADELPHIA – Third-ranked Villanova will look to stay in contention for its fifth consecutive Big East regular-season title when it faces DePaul on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Wildcats (24-3, 11-3 Big East) picked up a huge 95-79 win Saturday at fourth-ranked Xavier.

DePaul will enter this matchup at 10-16 overall and 3-11 in the conference.

Mikal Bridges, the reigning Big East player of the week, paced Villanova with 25 points while knocking down 10 of 15 shots against Xavier.

“We came out trying to defend our best,” Bridges told reporters. “We hadn’t been playing that well, teams had been scoring at will against us. We played Villanova basketball — stuck together as a team when they made a run in the second half.”

Donte DiVincenzo scored 21 points and also added nine rebounds and nine assists. DiVincenzo has scored in double figures in 17 of his last 18 games. In the seven games since DiVincenzo moved into the starting lineup to replace the injured Phil Booth, he has averaged 17.3 points and 5.4 rebounds.

“I think we wanted to send ourselves a message, not necessarily about the title race or anything like that, but about playing Villanova basketball,” DiVincenzo told reporters after the 16-point win at Xavier. “We wanted to come in here and get back to our culture of basketball.”

Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Booth had his cast removed from his right hand last Friday. It’s possible that Booth could return to face the Blue Demons.

“It’s not a guarantee,” Wright said. “We’re going to work to try to get him back. But if we get him back Wednesday, he’ll be really limited. We’re going to be careful with him.”

Villanova leads the all-time series against DePaul 25-8 while Wright is 16-2 in 18 career meetings. DePaul’s last win against the Wildcats came all the way back on Jan. 3, 2008.

In its most recent game, DePaul fell 82-77 at Seton Hall. Marin Maric scored 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting and swept eight rebounds to lead the Blue Demons. It was the fifth time this season that Maric scored at least 20 points.

The Blue Demons are 3-4 in conference road games, leaving them one conference road win from the most they have had since joining the Big East. However, DePaul is 0-7 at home in league play.

The Blue Demons have dropped 15 consecutive games to Villanova.

Guard Eli Cain is expected to make his 88th straight start on Wednesday against Villanova. Cain is averaging 11.9 points with 118 assists this season.

“I think I’m just playing basketball,” Cain told the school’s website. “I don’t really get too high or too low. Bad game or good game, I try to stay even keel. Things have just been working for me, guys have been finding me. Guys have been making shots when I get them the ball. I mean, it’s been the same thing all season. Personally, I missed some shots early but lately they’ve been falling for me.”

Cain scored nine points on 2-of-12 shooting and added five assists in the loss to Seton Hall.