‘Cats to prey on Friars



Jon Albert

After finishing the team’s most formidable trip of the year with their season-high, 11 game winning streak snapped, the Villanova Wildcats will try to build on their new winning streak this Saturday night when they play the Providence Friars at the Wachovia Center.

The ‘Cats lost the first game of their brief trek through the snowy Mid-Atlantic to the Georgetown Hoyas last Saturday by a score of 103-90. However, the team is coming off its biggest win of the season, an impressive 82-75 win over the West Virginia Mountaineers in Morgantown, W. Va.  

The No. 4 ranked Wildcats jumped on the Mountaineers early, and never allowed them to regain the lead after the early minutes.

Despite having to play next to arguably the rowdiest student section in the country, the Wildcats were able to gain the edge thanks to a stifling defensive performance. Head Coach Jay Wright’s squad limited star Mountaineer forward Da’Sean Butler to just 13 points on two of 12 shooting.

“We really played as a unit defensively,” Wright said. “We covered for each other and played unselfishly. When we had to switch, we switched. We got down against Georgetown, lost our composure and started scrambling. Tonight, we really kept good composure defensively.”

‘Nova will need their defense to have an equally impressive performance against the Friars, whose offense ranks No. 2 in the Big East and No.5 in the nation and averages 82.3 points per game.  The Friars have three players who average at least 14 points per game and are led by star forward Jamine Peterson, who averages 18.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, and is among the conference leaders in both categories.

The Friars have struggled lately and, as of Tuesday, have lost their last three games. 

Providence is currently in the most difficult stretch of their schedule, facing Syracuse twice, Villanova on the road, West Virginia, Georgetown and Pittsburgh in a one-month stretch. Throw in road games against South Florida and Cincinnati, and the Friars will be lucky to get back to .500 in conference play this season.

As offensively proficient as the Friars are, the Wildcats are that much better and would benefit from a shootout. Their 85.1 points per game is the highest in the Big East and is also the second highest mark for any Division I team. Only Virginia Military Institute of the Big South conference scores more points than the Wildcats. The Wildcat offense is also one of the most balanced scoring attacks in the country, with three players averaging double digits and seven players averaging at least eight points per game.

The Wildcat offense is led by senior star guard Scottie Reynolds. Reynolds, who averages 18.8 points per game, has become Villanova’s most consistent offensive option this season, replacing former Wildcat Dante Cunningham’s role as the go-to guy when a basket is needed. That being said, lately Reynolds has become a volume scorer when it matters most — in the second half. Over his last four games, Reynolds has averaged 3.3 points in the first half, but that average spikes to 16 points in the second half.

One relative letdown for the Wildcat offense has been the struggles of sophomore forward Taylor King. King has struggled shooting the ball in conference play and is averaging just 4.1 points per game over the last seven games. 

That number includes Monday’s dreadful performance against West Virginia, when he missed all six shots that he took and committed two turnovers and four personal fouls, including one which occurred during a 3-point attempt. 

While King is one of the team’s best rebounders, he needs to start being more efficient on the offensive side of the floor if the ‘Cats want to make a deep March run.

Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game, most Wildcat fans will be looking ahead to the end of conference play and the start of the Big East Tournament. 

After traveling to Pittsburgh to play the Panthers on Feb. 21, the Wildcats will face their toughest test of the season Feb. 27, when they travel to the Carrier Dome to play the Syracuse Orange. The winner of that game will likely be the Big East’s regular season champion and will also claim the coveted No.1 seed in the conference tournament.