Getting to 8-0 for the second straight season probably won’t be easy for Villanova, although its chance to do so comes at a venue where it has enjoyed tremendous success.
The third-ranked Wildcats head to the Verizon Center in Washington to take on Maryland for the first time since 1986 on Sunday night.
Villanova (7-0) won 93-57 over Houston Baptist last season to start 8-0 before suffering its first loss to Texas. This matchup with Maryland (5-2) should be more difficult - the Terrapins were ranked 21st before losing to Cincinnati and Wisconsin on Nov. 24-25 in the Maui Invitational.
The Wildcats are familiar with the Verizon Center, going 6-1 all-time in games against Big East rival Georgetown. Villanova leading scorer Scottie Reynolds is from the area and the Wildcats have two freshmen who played in high school in the region in center Mouphtaou Yarou and forward Isaiah Armwood.
Yarou, though has tested positive for Hepatitis B and is out indefinitely after starting the first two games. Coach Jay Wright has used a smaller lineup since and his club hasn’t missed a beat.
Villanova used excellent defense in a 77-58 win over Drexel on Wednesday, limiting the Dragons to 31.0 percent shooting.
“We were playing really good defense and I’m encouraged to see that,” Wright said. “I thought that was our best defensive game this year.”
Antonio Pena led the way with 19 points and 11 rebounds while reserve Taylor King scored 16 and Reynolds had 14 points.
The Wildcats have five players averaging in double figures, led by Reynolds’ 13.9 points per game. King, a Duke transfer, is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 48.3 percent on 3-pointers this season.
“When those two guys get into a two-man game, it is pretty tough on the other team,” Wright said. “They both can really shoot it and can really pass it.”
King is the only Villanova player with experience against Maryland, logging seven scoreless minutes in two games with the Blue Devils two seasons ago.
The Wildcats have won two of three all-time against the Terrapins, winning 66-64 on Feb. 1, 1986, in the last matchup.
Maryland is wrapping up a season-high five-game stretch away from home. The Terrapins recovered from their two losses in the Maui Invitational to win at Indiana, 80-68 on Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“We had two tough losses over in Maui,” coach Gary Williams said. “We were able to come back, I think that shows something of the character of the team.”
Greivis Vasquez scored 23 points and Landon Milbourne added 19 for Maryland. Williams did not use athletic 6-foot-6 Cliff Tucker for the first time, but has indicated that Tucker will be available Sunday.
“I was really pleased with the win,” Williams said. “We have Villanova on Sunday, and it was just a great team effort on our part.”
For their part, the Wildcats don’t seem too phased at facing their first ACC opponent since losing to North Carolina in last season’s Final Four.
“We have gone through a lot of experiences,” Reynolds said. “With this team the most important thing is we need to go through these experiences, whether they are good or bad, we have to go through it and then relate back to it in tough situations.”