Villanova gave up plenty of offensive rebounds and free throws in two straight road losses, but coach Jay Wright insists things are not as bad as they look.
His No. 9 Wildcats will try to avoid a third straight Big East road loss Tuesday night when they meet Cincinnati, which is desperate to boost its fading NCAA tournament hopes.
Villanova (23-5, 12-4) has tumbled to its lowest ranking of the season following its third loss in four games, 95-77 at then-No. 4 Syracuse on Saturday night. The Wildcats gave up a season-high 23 offensive rebounds and allowed the Orange to shoot 33 free throws.
They had similar problems in a 70-65 defeat at then-No. 19 Pittsburgh on Feb. 21. The Panthers grabbed 21 offensive boards and shot 34 free throws.
Against Syracuse, Wright felt that the Orange’s athleticism allowed them to dominate the offensive glass.
“We weren’t great on the defensive boards and we turned the ball over,” Wright said. “A lot of the rebounds, though, we were right there and (Rick) Jackson and (Arinze) Onuaku just went over the top and jumped over us.”
The coach gave freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou his first start since Nov. 16 in an attempt to get a better effort on the boards. Yarou had a season-high 13 points and eight rebounds.
He also picked up four fouls, while Antonio Pena fouled out. The Wildcats had a total of five players foul out in their two previous losses, but Wright believes it’s not necessarily their fault.
“Our guys are keeping their hands up and doing a good job,” Wright said. “I don’t know what it is. I have watched the film and I know for sure that we are playing good defense.”
Foul trouble and rebounding was a problem for Cincinnati (16-12, 7-9) in its 74-68 loss at then-No. 8 West Virginia on Saturday. The Bearcats were outrebounded 41-30 and had four players commit at least four fouls.
Cincinnati took a six-point lead into halftime before shooting 29 percent (9 of 31) from the floor the rest of the way, going 2 of 11 from 3-point range.
“When you miss a couple of layups, it’s crucial and we did it at crucial times when we needed a basket,” said coach Mick Cronin, whose team has lost five of seven. “Jump shots are jump shots, but you have to put the ball in when you’re right by the basket.”
Cronin is in his fourth season with Cincinnati, one which he felt would finally result in an NCAA tournament berth. The Bearcats have a tough week on tap before the Big East tournament, as they visit No. 19 Georgetown on Saturday.
This will be the final home game for Deonta Vaughn, the Bearcats’ second-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game. Vaughn has started 116 of his 122 games and is fourth on the school’s all-time list with 1,793 points.
Villanova leads the series with Cincinnati 4-1 and won 71-50 at home last Feb. 1. Wildcats star Scottie Reynolds has averaged 10.0 points on 23.5 percent shooting in two home wins over the Bearcats, but scored 32 in a 69-66 road loss Jan. 12, 2008.