Villanova-DePaul Preview

Earlier this week, Villanova found itself lucky to avoid third

straight road loss to one of the few Big East teams that almost

certainly won’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

If it needed another reason not to overlook its next opponent,

DePaul provided one.

The last-place Blue Demons snapped their 25-game Big East losing

streak Thursday night, a performance that should have the

15th-ranked Wildcats wary as they’ll again be missing guard Corey

Stokes on Saturday at Allstate Arena.

Villanova (20-6, 8-5) has lost five of nine since climbing to

No. 7 in the AP Poll on Jan. 17, but falling to Connecticut,

Georgetown and Pittsburgh by a combined eight points did not cause

too much concern.

Road losses to Providence and Rutgers, teams among the Big

East’s bottom five, were the alarming results, and they nearly fell

to another team in the conference’s bottom third Tuesday at Seton

Hall.

After giving up 49 second-half points to the Scarlet Knights and

shooting 36.0 percent versus Pitt, it seemed 22 turnovers might

doom the Wildcats against the Pirates. But they survived 60-57

thanks to 21 points from little-used freshman guard James Bell.

“A road win in the Big East. That’s the nicest thing I can say

about that game,” coach Jay Wright said. “The Pitt game was one of

the ugliest games ever and so was this game. The common denominator

was us. We just had to gut it out and our young guys played

great.”

Stokes, the team’s second-leading scorer (14.6 per game) and

leading 3-point shooter (41.5 percent), could miss the rest of the

month with a turf toe injury that has him in a walking boot.

But Bell, who had scored 12 points in his first nine Big East

games, stepped up.

“I got an opportunity and it’s not that I stepped up but I was

put in the right position to make plays,” said Bell, who had

stress fractures in both tibias that kept him from playing until

December. “These are shots we always take in our offense and they

just happened to fall.”

Villanova would love to see Bell provide a second option behind

Corey Fisher again Saturday, particularly with Maalik Wayns

struggling. The sophomore has shot 24.0 percent over his past three

games, averaging 7.3 points and 4.3 turnovers.

As if the Wildcats’ struggles at Providence, Rutgers and Seton

Hall weren’t enough reason for concern Saturday, the Blue Demons

(7-18, 1-12) actually have some momentum.

After coming close to snapping their lengthy conference skid in

losses to Louisville and Cincinnati earlier this month, DePaul got

over the hump Thursday at Providence. Freshmen Jeremiah Kelly and

Cleveland Melvin scored a combined 43 points to engineer a 79-76

victory, the team’s first Big East win since Jan. 20, 2010.

“We talked about this stretch of the season, especially (the

Providence game), to get something going,” coach Oliver Purnell

said. “Villanova isn’t playing great – they’re a great basketball

team – but we’re looking to try to get something going.”

The Blue Demons have just one Big East home win in the past

three years, losing 26 of 27 since Feb. 12, 2008. Their last win

over a ranked opponent, however, came against then-No. 17

Villanova, 84-76 on Jan. 3, 2008.

The Wildcats have won the past three meetings.