Villanova has been mindful of the historic nature of this Big East season. St. John’s, though, has done little to help the league’s status in recent years.
The 23rd-ranked Wildcats, with a chance to set a school record for consecutive wins at the Pavilion, look to become the third straight ranked team to beat the Red Storm when the teams meet Sunday.
Villanova (13-3, 1-2) has lost two of three, but those defeats were against Big East teams that are currently in the Top 25. The conference has eight ranked teams, including No. 1 Pittsburgh.
“We talk to our guys about this all the time,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said after a 61-60 loss to then-No. 23 Louisville on Jan. 10. “At the end of December we told them to really enjoy what we were embarking on. We told them that they are going to be a part of history. This is one of the greatest years in the history of the Big East and they are going to be telling their children about this.”
Nine days prior to losing to the Cardinals, Villanova fell 79-72 to a Marquette team that has since moved into the Top 25.
After hosting Louisville at the Wachovia Center, the Wildcats return to the Pavilion - their on-campus home - where they have tied a school record with 23 straight wins. Villanova hasn’t lost there since Jan. 6, 2007, when it fell 73-65 to DePaul.
The Wildcats seem to have a good chance to break the record, facing a St. John’s team that has lost five of its last six. The Red Storm’s only win during that stretch was 71-65 over then-No. 7 Notre Dame on Jan. 3, but they went on to lose 90-67 at Pittsburgh and 67-55 at home to No. 4 Connecticut this past week.
The Red Storm (10-6, 1-3), once a perennial Big East power, appear to be resigned to another poor season. They have finished below .500 in four of six seasons since last making the NCAA tournament in 2001-02.
Villanova will get its own opportunity to face the Panthers and Huskies over the next 10 days. First, the Wildcats have to find a way to bounce back from a close loss.
Villanova missed two shots down low in the final seconds against Louisville, and went 6-for-14 from the foul line over the final 8 1/2 minutes.
The poor free throw shooting was out of the ordinary for the Wildcats, who entered the game leading the Big East at 72.2 percent. They made 18 in a row at the line in an 89-85 overtime win at Seton Hall on Jan. 6.
Antonio Pena, who went into the Cardinals game shooting 69.6 percent from the line, made one of six free throws over the final 4:43, missing three of four in the last 47 seconds.
“Even if you’re a good free throw shooting team, you’ll have one of those games,” Wright said.
St. John’s got to the free throw line a season-low 10 times versus UConn on Thursday night, making six in the loss.
Sophomore guard Paris Horne, who has stepped up with Anthony Mason Jr. (foot) out for the season, had a career-high 24 points for the Red Storm. Horne, averaging 13.2 points, was 9-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
St. John’s leads the all-time series 58-42, but Villanova has won the last four meetings. The Wildcats won 60-42 on the road in the only matchup in 2007-08, holding the Red Storm to 13 points in the first half last Feb. 16.