Villanova’s young team seems to be gelling quicker than expected, but it has yet to experience the rigors of the Big East.
The 17th-ranked Wildcats look for a seventh straight win Thursday night when they open conference play with a trip to DePaul.
“It’s definitely a marathon, the Big East season with 18 games,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
Villanova (10-1) finished 6-0 in December, creating plenty of momentum heading into Big East play. The Wildcats have no senior starters, and have several freshmen as key contributors.
“None of us have been through that. It will be a war night in and night out,” said freshman guard Corey Fisher, who’s started the last four games.
Villanova finished 2007 with a 71-58 win over La Salle on Saturday. Scottie Reynolds scored 19 points despite 5-of-14 shooting and Fisher added 18 as the Wildcats forced 22 turnovers and won their 14th straight game against a Big 5 city rival.
Dante Cunningham fouled out with 12 points and 12 rebounds for Villanova, which never had its lead in the second half cut below nine points.
“Tonight was very physical and like a Big East game,” Wright said. “I give La Salle credit for that and think it’s big for us going into DePaul.”
To this point, Villanova has played just two major-conference opponents, losing 69-68 to North Carolina State on Nov. 25 in the championship of the Old Spice Classic and rallying from a 21-point deficit to beat LSU 68-67 on Dec. 6.
“They have found ways to win and I am happy that in the last couple of games we are learning to play defense together,” Wright said. “We toughened up and improved. Now we have to get ready for the Big East.”
Since scoring a season-low four points in the win over LSU, Reynolds is averaging 20.3 points while shooting over 51 percent in his last four games. The sophomore guard was last season’s Big East rookie of the year.
Villanova and DePaul each went 9-7 in Big East play last season, and split two meetings. The Wildcats won 75-67 in the opening round of the conference tournament behind Reynolds’ 29 points as they avenged a 73-65 home loss to the Blue Demons on Jan. 6 in which he scored 25.
The Blue Demons (4-7), however, lost their top two scorers from last season’s team, as Wilson Chandler entered the NBA draft after his sophomore year and Sammy Mejia graduated. They are one of only two conference teams with losing records, along with Cincinnati.
DePaul is hoping to solve some of its woes in the Big East, much like Cincinnati did in winning its conference opener at Louisville on Tuesday. The Blue Demons have won two straight after a 70-64 victory at Detroit on Saturday.
Draelon Burns scored 19 points and freshman Dar Tucker added 18 in his first college game in his native Michigan. DePaul went 27-for-50 from the field to shoot at least 50 percent for the second straight game.
The Blue Demons are 0-3 against ranked teams this season after splitting four such games in 2006-07.