Wright, No. 4 Villanova ready for visit to Providence

Villanova surrendered its No. 1 perch in the nation with last week’s loss at Marquette.

But the defending national champions, faced with the prospect of losing two games in a row for the first time since 2013, rallied to defeat No. 9 Virginia in a non-conference game in Philadelphia on Saturday.

The now-No. 4 Wildcats (20-2, 7-2 Big East) return to Big East play on Wednesday with a visit to Providence.

“They’re an explosive team, especially at the Dunk,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They’re tough to prepare for because they have so many weapons — Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright, Jalen Lindsay. It’s a hard group to defend and they’re playing with a lot of confidence after their win at Marquette.”

The Friars (14-9, 4-6) snapped a two-game losing streak with their win at Marquette. They are 4-7 in their last 11 games, losing at Villanova Jan. 21, and continue to deal with life without draft picks Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil.

“Life is tough on the road and we know how passionate the crowd is at the Dunk,” said Wright, whose team plays five of its remaining nine conference games on the road before heading to Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament. “We look forward to that challenge.”

Josh Hart scored 25 points and added six rebounds and four assists, Kris Jenkins had 19 points and four assists, Mikal Bridges 15 points and four helpers and Darryl Reynolds pulled down 10 rebounds in Villanova’s 78-68 victory over the Friars in the first meeting.

Providence went 13-for-26 from 3-point range to hang in that game. Bullock led the scoring with 17 points while Lindsey added 14 and Cartwright 12 points and five assists.

The Friars won for the first time in 11 games in Milwaukee against Marquette, with Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal calling it “another wacky twist to this season.”

“I thought our guys were energetic and we made some timely plays,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “We made it a little rough with all the free throws we were missing but I’m just proud. We had never won in this building. We’ve had some really tough losses this year so I’m just proud the grit our guys are showing.”

As this young team does with most thing, Cooley’s club made things difficult on itself, leading by seven with 1:32 left and then missing four free throws in the final 47 seconds before hanging on.

“We knew we had our hands full,” Cooley said. “Marquette is playing as well as anybody in America and had a couple of incredible wins coming into this game. Offensively they’re as gifted as any team we’ve played this year. They’re an NCAA team.”

So is Villanova.

Wildcats sophomore Jalen Brunson received word Monday that he is one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, which goes to the nation’s top point guard. He is averaging 14.2 points per game and has 93 assists and 43 turnovers on the season.

Wright’s team pushed its departure from Philadelphia to Providence up from Tuesday night to the morning because of the expected snow in Rhode Island.