Villanova has successfully rebounded from each of its losses. It likely hasn’t hurt that each ensuing opponent has been unranked.
The 20th-ranked Wildcats look to continue their bounce-back trend and win for the 15th time in 16 games against teams outside the Top 25 on Saturday as they visit South Florida.
Villanova (14-4, 2-3 Big East) endured its first loss of the season at then-No. 6 Texas on Dec. 9, but displayed its resilience by reeling off four straight wins - all versus unranked foes.
However, the Wildcats - one of eight ranked squads from the Big East - haven’t been as impressive in conference play, alternating wins and losses in five games since the winning streak. The last two of those three defeats have come against Top 25 teams, most recently falling 89-83 at No. 3 Connecticut on Wednesday night.
Both of their wins this month have come versus clubs not in the AP poll, and they are 14-1 in those games overall.
Villanova has a good chance to improve upon that record, considering South Florida has lost eight consecutive games versus ranked opponents - including three this season - since defeating then-No. 21 Notre Dame on Feb. 3, 2007.
The Wildcats also have won both all-time meetings versus the Bulls (7-11, 2-4), including 72-59 at home on March 5 despite South Florida’s Dominique Jones scoring 29 points.
Jones, a sophomore guard, is averaging 18.8 points this season to rank fifth in the Big East, but the Bulls are last in the conference with 62.5 points per game.
That bodes well for a Villanova team looking to regroup from its worst defensive performance of the season. Against the Huskies, the Wildcats surrendered season highs in points and field-goal shooting (47.4 percent).
Still, UConn coach Jim Calhoun came away impressed by the Wildcats.
“They’re as tough a team physically as you’ll play,” Calhoun said. “Tonight was hand-to-hand combat.”
For the season, Villanova yields the fourth-fewest points in the Big East (62.2 per game) and has limited teams to 39.1 percent shooting.
Dwayne Anderson scored a season-high 15 points Wednesday while Scottie Reynolds added 14, but Dante Cunningham - the team leader with 16.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game - finished with a season-low six points and three boards in 14 minutes before fouling out with 8:16 remaining.
Jones certainly hasn’t struggled lately, averaging 26.3 points in his last four games. Following a 35-point performance in a Jan. 17 loss at West Virginia, Jones had 26 points, 10 rebounds and six assists on Tuesday night in a 70-61 victory over DePaul.
“(Jones is) playing well, and we need him to,” said coach Stan Heath, whose Bulls improved to 5-3 at home. “And, he’s doing it with the other team preparing hard to stop him.”
Augustus Gilchrist added 16 points and 11 rebounds for South Florida, which won despite the absence of second-leading scorer Jesus Verdejo (14.2 points per game). Verdejo suffered a concussion against West Virginia and had to have a damaged tooth removed after the game.
Verdejo’s availability is unclear for Saturday, when the Bulls seek to secure back-to-back wins for the first time since Nov. 25 and 29.
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