Once again playing shorthanded against the Big East’s top team, with Senior Corey Stokes sidelined with a hamstring injury, this time in Pittsburgh, Villanova gave a spirited effort for 35 minutes only to fall to the Panthers Saturday afternoon 60-50 in the Petersen Events Center.
The Wildcats deliberately slowed the game down, thinking there best chance of an upset without one of their leading scorers, was to shorten the game and hope for a chance at the end. They hung with the mighty Panthers for most of the game, but in the end Pittsburgh was too much, pulling away in the final minutes.
Maalik Wayns led the Wildcats with 27 points, but once again Villanova was unable to get a solid performance out of anyone else. Wayns was the only player in double figures as leading scorer Corey Fisher continues to struggle. Playing through severe tendinitis in his right knee, the senior guard managed only 7 points on 3-14 shooting including 1-8 from three. Normally a 78% free throw shooter, Fisher even missed his only 2 attempts from the line.
Villanova just can not seem to get multiple players playing well at the same time, as they have now dropped 4 in a row and 6 of 8.
The Wildcats put in a good effort against a top team on their home court, playing without one of their best players. A kind of effort they can build on heading into the Big East tournament and eventually the NCAA tournament. If they can only get more than one player to play well at the same time, they could be a dangerous team come tournament time.
For now, the loss solidifies Villanova as the 10th seed in the Big East tournament, and a date with South Florida on Tuesday night. A win against the 9-22 Bulls from South Florida and Villanova will earn a date in the quarter finals against Cincinnati, a team the Wildcats beat back in early January at the Pavilion. The 2nd seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish will await in the semifinals.
For a team struggling as they are headed into the conference tournament, Villanova got as good a draw as they could have hoped for in such a monster conference. The Wildcats must beat a team with 3 conference wins (2 of which came against 1 win Depaul), and then a Cincinnati team they already beat, to get to a rematch with a team that embarrassed them a couple weeks ago on a neutral court in Madison Square Garden, in the semi-finals.
On the flip side, for a team struggling as they are, there is almost no such thing as a good draw. If Villanova were to look past a South Florida team that plays them tough when the Wildcats are playing well, they could easily find themselves eliminated before even getting a chance to prove themselves in the post season.
Villanova did beat Cincinnati earlier in the year, but things have changed lately. The Bearcats are playing well, having beaten Georgetown twice in the last month, while Villanova is on an epic downward spiral during the latter months of the season.
What comes with the Big East bracket for the Wildcats is an opportunity. For some players on the Villanova roster, it is a last opportunity. Though it seems like it, the season is not lost.
First things first for Villanova, they must get healthy. If the Wildcats are going to challenge anyone in any tournament, they must get Corey Stokes back from injury. Aside from being one of their leading scorers, Stokes does so much for the Wildcats on both offense and defense. Shooting the three, he spreads the floor and opens the lane for Fisher and Wayns as well as for big men Mouph Yarou and Antonio Pena. He is also Villanova’s best on the ball defender, which has been a major weakness down the stretch for the Wildcats. Stokes must be in the lineup if Villanova is going to contend with anyone.
With tendinitis in his knee, which tends to be a nagging injury, Corey Fisher will most likely not be at 100% for the remainder of the season. However, Villanova must get something out of him. He has not been the same Corey Fisher Villanova fans had come to love over the years. He rarely gets to the hoop and has become too much of a jumpshooter ignoring what made him so special. Whether or not it is the tendinitis to blame does not matter.
For Villanova to put this recent slide behind them, and for Corey Fisher to be remembered as the great player he was, instead of the leader of an underachieving Villanova team, he must be an integral part of the Villanova team that overcame a sluggish back end of the season to make a run in not only the Big East tournament but the NCAA tournament as well.
Villanova has a chance in these last weeks of the season to erase the memories of what has been a dismal period in what started as a promising season. It won’t be easy with the Big East tournament being back to back to back games, if they keep winning. However, there are winnable games against beatable teams that, if Villanova plays well, can spark a team that has talent, but is just missing something right now.
It all starts Tuesday night against South Florida. Play well, and you get an improved Cincinnati team. Play well again, and its a rematch with the Irish, and a chance to become the team they started off as. A bulldog tough defensive team that would not be denied access to the rim on the offensive end. Play like that team, and they might just make people forget about the devastation that was the last month of the season.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.