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
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
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.