Villanova coach Jay Wright knew that his team would probably have to lose to get better this season - but that doesn’t mean its most recent defeat wasn’t a disappointment.
The 18th-ranked Wildcats will try to bounce back from an upset loss on Saturday when they host a Notre Dame team desperate for a road win.
Villanova (13-4, 3-3 Big East) lost 80-68 at Rutgers on Wednesday, falling for the first time in five games against the Scarlet Knights. The Wildcats committed a season-high 19 turnovers and shot just 36.7 percent - their third-worst percentage of the season - while allowing Rutgers to make half of its shots from the floor.
“I really think it’s just experience,” said Wright, whose team went almost 12 minutes without a basket beginning early in the second half. “You have to go though this. I wish we didn’t, and I tell them that all the time.”
Rutgers jumped out to a 16-2 lead as Villanova continued to struggle with slow starts. Cincinnati opened a 7-2 lead in its 69-66 win over the Wildcats on Jan. 12, and DePaul led 9-2 before Villanova rallied for a 76-69 victory on Jan. 16.
Freshman Malcolm Grant scored 23 points Wednesday, including a stretch of 17 straight late in the game as he tried to help Villanova claw back into the game. Grant, who was starting his third straight game, had managed just seven points in his previous three contests, including two scoreless efforts.
Leading scorer Scottie Reynolds, who is averaging 17.4 points, had 16 against Rutgers, but made just 5 of 19 shots from the field and missed 7 of 8 3-point attempts.
“We’re just a team that’s finding its way,” Wright said. “I’m not happy about it. Win or lose, you have to get better.”
All three of the Wildcats’ conference losses have come on the road, including a Jan. 3 defeat at DePaul and the loss to Cincinnati. However, Villanova is 8-0 at home this season, including a 64-63 win over No. 13 Pittsburgh on Jan. 6.
Notre Dame (13-4, 3-2), meanwhile, has dropped its only two road games, falling 92-66 to then-No. 15 Marquette on Jan. 12 and 84-65 to then-No. 5 Georgetown last Saturday in its most recent contest. Those two losses represent the most lopsided defeats in eight seasons under coach Mike Brey.
Notre Dame has averaged 65.5 points and shot 36.1 percent in its two road games, while hitting 48.3 percent of its shots and scoring 84.4 points in 11 home games - all wins.
“I think we just played two really good teams on the road so far,” captain Rob Kurz said. “They came out and played great and we didn’t play as well as we could have.”
Luke Harangody, who leads the team with 18.9 points per game, had a team-high 13 against Georgetown but made just 3 of 13 field goal attempts. He entered the game averaging 24.3 points and 11.8 rebounds in his first four conference games.
“We’ve got to score a little bit more to kind of feel good on the road and get into a rhythm,” said Brey, who raised the possibility of changes in the starting lineup.
Villanova leads the all-time series between these teams 16-13, including an 11-3 mark since Notre Dame joined the Big East in 1995-96. Last season, each team won on the road in the series.