Although Maalik Wayns has been moved out of the starting lineup, he’s still a big reason why Villanova’s backcourt is one of the best in the country.
Wayns showcased his playmaking ability in an earlier victory over Rutgers for the ninth-ranked Wildcats, and the Big East clubs meet again Wednesday night.
Coach Jay Wright started Wayns the first 20 games before using Dominic Cheek in a 69-66 loss to then-No. 21 Georgetown on Jan. 29. The last two games, Wright has opted to use a more traditional lineup with Isaiah Armwood at small forward.
Wayns has been solid in all three games off the bench, averaging 14.0 points on 54.2 percent shooting. He shot 41.5 percent as a starter.
“It’s the same mind-set, I’ve got to get a lot better defending and rebounding,” Wayns said. “My team needs me to defend and rebound so we can be a good team, then that’s what I’ve got to do.”
While Wright made the change to get bigger at the start of the game, Wayns and Corey Fisher have continue to get the bulk of the minutes down the stretch.
“I think these guys are the best, I really do,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t trade these two guards for anybody. Anybody.”
Both guards had an impact in an 81-65 home victory over Rutgers (12-11, 3-8) on Jan. 2 in the clubs’ Big East opener. Fisher scored 19 points and Wayns added nine and nine assists.
The duo keyed a 66-50 win over No. 25 West Virginia on Saturday, combining for 33 points and nine assists. Villanova (19-4, 7-3) shot 54.3 percent for its third-best mark of the season.
“It was a good effort for us,” Wright said, “It was tough, gritty Big East basketball.”
The score of the first matchup was a bit deceiving since the Scarlet Knights led 37-33 at halftime. Villanova finished with a 40-21 rebounding cushion, and Corey Stokes scored 21 of his 23 points after halftime.
The physical contest also saw the ejection of Scarlet Knights freshman Gilvydas Biruta for taking a swipe at Cheek with 55 seconds left.
Rutgers allowed Villanova to attempt 35 foul shots, matching the most it has yielded this season. The Scarlet Knights have allowed at least 30 free throws during their four-game losing streak, including 34 in a 76-69 defeat at then-No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday.
“You don’t do anything with the referees in the Big East,” coach Mike Rice said. “They have their own fraternity. You just leave them alone and make adjustments and for the last two weeks we have.”
Leading scorer Jonathan Mitchell is averaging 22.5 points on 73.9 percent shooting in his last two games, making 9 of 13 3-pointers.
This is the third time the Scarlet Knights will host a ranked opponent, falling 74-65 to then-No. 22 Georgetown on Jan. 15 and 65-62 to then-No. 2 Pittsburgh on Jan. 29. They feel they are coming closer to getting over the hump.
“We have come so far this season,” Mitchell said. “We just can’t give up, can’t quit. We’ve got to keep fighting.”