There was, Jay Wright admitted, a little bit of curiosity. How could there not be?
It had been so long, after all, since No. 1 Villanova last lost, it was only natural to wonder how the Wildcats would respond in their first game following a defeat.
But deep down, the ’Nova coach had a gut feeling his team’s leaders wouldn’t allow one loss to turn into any kind of losing streak.
And he turned out to be right as standout seniors Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart led the way in a 93-81 win over Marquette on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center — a game that was an absolute shellacking until the Golden Eagles outscored ’Nova 23-5 over the final six-plus minutes (see Instant Replay).
“After you lose a game at any time, you’re always a little curious how your team comes back,” said Wright, who guided Villanova to a program-record 20 straight wins before Wednesday’s loss at Butler. “But I wouldn’t say I was worried. With Josh and Kris, you guys are tired of hearing me say it I’m sure, but what makes us so good is our character. And these guys, they’re not saints, but they can look at a loss and say, ‘OK, we got to get a lot better. No excuses.’”
Hart, a national player of the year candidate, had a rare off game at Butler, shooting just 3 of 11 from the field as Villanova (15-1, 3-1) dropped a 66-58 decision at crazed Hinkle Fieldhouse.
But as a senior, he’s had bad games before so knew exactly what to do to bounce back.
“I’m competitive but you can’t dwell on it,” Hart said. “We didn’t have a good feeling coming out of that game — not just because we lost but how we played. So we got back the next day and just kept working on our habits. The day after I felt good about where we were going.”
Hart was most pleased with how quickly Villanova applied those lessons, making eight of its first nine shots to take a double-digit lead early and never taking its foot off the gas.
For the game, the Wildcats shot 65.3 percent from the field and 60.9 from three-point range, both season highs. And everyone shot well. Hart was 8 for 13, finishing with 19 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Jenkins was 7 for 11 with 23 points. Mikal Bridges (4 for 4) and Darryl Reynolds (3 for 3) didn’t miss. Jalen Brunson was 5 for 7 with 16 points. Donte DiVincenzo was 2 for 4 with eight points and a career-high six assists.
What was it like being out there when everyone was so hot?
“Sometimes they all go in,” DiVincenzo said. “Sometimes none of them go in. We can’t count on that. We just have to make sure to get back on defense and get stops.”
In that department, Villanova was not at its best, allowing a season-high 81 points and a season-high 14 three-pointers.
“We still made a lot of mistakes defensively,” Wright said. “We’re a work in progress, we know that. We just got to keep getting better every night.”
There may still be room for improvement. But on a night like Saturday, it sure didn’t seem that way to a good Marquette team that was simply run out of the crowded Wells Fargo Center.
“We knew Villanova was going to be really ready to play,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “That’s what championship-level programs do. Usually when playing a program like Villanova off a loss, you know they’re going to be really ready.”
And it was mostly because of Villanova’s battle-hardened seniors — something they’ll hope to carry over to Tuesday’s game vs. Xavier at the Pavilion.
“The one thing I’m proud of the most is how we started the game off in the sense of playing Villanova basketball and setting a tone,” Hart said. “It was one of the better jobs we’ve done all year.”