The momentum Villanova built with its recent offensive outbursts was wiped out with a defensive collapse.
Facing Rutgers seems to offer a pretty good chance to begin seizing it back.
The No. 12 Wildcats will try to rebound from their worst loss in more than a year Thursday night when they host Rutgers, which is seeking just its second Big East win this season.
Villanova (20-5, 8-4) was asserting itself as a potential darkhorse in the conference title race with six straight wins from Jan. 24-Feb. 10, scoring more than 90 points in each of the last three.
The Wildcats topped 100 in home wins over ranked foes Syracuse and Marquette, shooting at least 54 percent in both.
They came back to earth Friday night at West Virginia by making 42.3 percent of their shots, but more alarming was the lack of defense. Villanova fell behind 52-34 at halftime on their way to a 93-72 loss, letting Mountaineers forward Da’Sean Butler score 43 points.
It was the Wildcats’ most lopsided loss since falling by 22 at St. John’s on Feb. 4, 2008.
“We got in foul trouble early and then defensively we just didn’t have an answer for Da’Sean Butler,” coach Jay Wright said. “He was great and when we got down and we were trying to come back, we left him open a lot.”
One of the Villanova players who got in foul trouble was Dante Cunningham. The senior forward isn’t just the Wildcats’ leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, but he also paces them in rebounds (7.2), steals (1.6) and blocks (1.3).
Cunningham was limited to seven points in 25 minutes because of foul problems and also had four turnovers.
Aside from a bounce-back game from Cunningham, who averaged 19.8 points in his first four games in February, Villanova needs more from second-leading scorer Scottie Reynolds.
The junior guard had 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting against West Virginia, also committing five turnovers before fouling out. Besides being 7-0 this season when Reynolds scores at least 18 points, the Wildcats are 14-0 when he has two or fewer turnovers, compared to 6-5 when he has three or more.
While the Mountaineers lead the Big East in turnovers forced, hanging on to the ball shouldn’t be as much of a problem for Reynolds and his teammates against the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers (10-15, 1-11) is among the nation’s worst teams forcing turnovers at 11.6 per game.
The Scarlet Knights have lost 12 of 13 and their only conference win came against DePaul, the only team below them in the Big East standings. They’ve dropped three straight since that victory, though they came close to a stunning comeback win Saturday at Providence, rallying from 22 down to pull within one with 3:21 left before losing 78-68.
“We battled back. It’s a three minute game and we’re down one,” coach Fred Hill said. “Now you have to execute. We weren’t able to get over the hump. … We just didn’t get that one extra point we needed, that one more free throw, that one layup.”
Rutgers hung in despite the worst game of Mike Rosario’s career. The freshman leads the Scarlet Knights with 17.0 points per game, but had a season-low five on 1-of-6 shooting.
Villanova lost its only meeting with Rutgers a year ago, 80-68 in Piscataway, as Scarlet Knight guards Anthony Farmer and Mike Coburn each had 23 points.
Rutgers has lost seven of eight on the road to the Wildcats and has dropped 19 of its last 21 road games in conference play.