Villanova-St. John's Preview

The Associated Press

After being blown out in its non-conference finale, Villanova has bounced back for a strong start in Big East play.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats will be favorites to knock off St. John's at Madison Square Garden on Saturday as they try to improve to 4-0 in conference action for the first time in three seasons, but the Red Storm and their top scorer have proven pesky in recent meetings.

Villanova (14-1, 3-0) has recovered nicely from a 78-62 setback at No. 2 Syracuse on Dec. 28 in which it was just 19 of 50 from the field (38.0 percent). The Wildcats are shooting 54.1 percent in three games since, including 26 of 49 from 3-point range in the last two.

Coach Jay Wright might have preferred a larger margin of victory in his team's 83-67 win at Seton Hall on Wednesday as injures limited the Pirates to using seven players.

"Not a pretty game but give Seton Hall credit for that," Wright said. "They were down men and came out and scrapped and gave us a lot of trouble. Sometimes you just have to battle and find a way to win and that's what we did."

The Wildcats are among the nation's leaders with 26.0 3s attempted per game, and they hit 12 against Seton Hall with four players converting at least two.

Darrun Hilliard II was 4 of 5 from long range while finishing with a team-high 19 points, and JayVaughn Pinkston scored 17 to push himself over the 1,000-point plateau. Pinkston is averaging 19.3 points on 21-of-38 shooting since going 1 for 4 with a season-low three points at Syracuse.

"We are doing a good job offensively," Wright said. "A good job of sharing the ball. We turn it over a little too much which helps your shooting percentage. We do share the ball and I think we're doing a good job of finding good shots."

Villanova has won nine of 10 meetings with St. John's, though the last two in the regular season were decided in overtime. The Wildcats posted a 98-86 victory Jan. 2, 2013, with Ryan Arcidiacono scoring a career-high 32 while going 7 of 13 from 3-point range. They also won 79-76 at St. John's on Jan. 21, 2012.

Red Storm guard D'Angelo Harrison posted two of the four highest-scoring performances of his career in those contests. He had a career-best 36 last season after scoring 28 two years ago, combining to go 10 of 19 from beyond the arc.

St. John's (9-5, 0-2) is in danger of its first 0-3 start in conference play in four years after consecutive road defeats. It lost 77-60 to Georgetown last Saturday as Harrison shot 1 for 12 and scored four points, marking his first game this season with fewer than 12.

The Red Storm outscored the Hoyas 44-35 in the second half after trailing 42-16 at halftime.

"Our effort and execution were better in the second half, but this league is too strong to not compete for 40 minutes," coach Steve Lavin told the school's official website.

Lavin's group has dropped six in a row against top 10 teams after winning its previous four.

St. John's leads the all-time series 60-47.

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