Villanova has work to do after loss to Notre Dame

Villanova has work to do after loss to Notre Dame
January 30, 2013, 10:00 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Cool the NCAA tournament talk for Villanova -- at least for now.

After knocking off top-five teams in back-to-back games, the Wildcats’ 65-60 loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday (see Instant Replay) shows there is still a lot of work to do.

“Those two games can’t be our season, and in the Big East you can’t have a letdown,” sophomore Darrun Hilliard said. “Unfortunately, we did today, but we’ll be back at it tomorrow.”

Make no mistake though, Villanova (13-8, 4-4) is still playing at a high level despite the defeat. Even with Notre Dame (17-4, 5-3) shooting 6 for 9 from beyond the arc in the second half, Hilliard had a three-point attempt to tie the game with 13 seconds remaining.

But a loss is still a loss, and for a Villanova team that had too many of them early in the season, it needs to start winning road games like this one.

“We knew how important this was coming off those games,” head coach Jay Wright said. “If you’re a good team you win those home games, then you go on the road and beat a really good team.”

With such a young team, Wright wasn’t exactly sure how his group would perform coming off of the wins over nationally-ranked Louisville and Syracuse.

“I didn’t know how we were going to react because we haven’t had that kind of success, and we haven’t had to respond to it,” Wright said.

Early on, it appeared that Villanova was ready for its next challenge. Notre Dame jumped out to an early six-point lead, but the Wildcats battled back and hit halftime up 31-29.

And Villanova did a lot of the little things right that you need to win Big East road games. The Wildcats had just nine turnovers and shot 15 for 17 from the free throw line.

However, the team’s poor perimeter defense earlier this season reared its ugly head again on Wednesday, and that was enough to have Villanova leaving South Bend in defeat.

“You have to give Notre Dame credit,” Wright said. “If guys make shots, they are going to beat you.”

Cameron Biedscheid made most of those shots for Notre Dame on Wednesday. The freshman had 18 points and went 5 for 7 from long range.

His teammate, Jack Cooley, kept the Fighting Irish balanced by excelling down low with 17 points and 16 rebounds.

Mouphtaou Yarou battled Cooley all evening and finished with 20 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats.

As one of the few seniors on the Villanova roster, Yarou tried to communicate with his team before the game how difficult it is to win away from home in the conference.

In Villanova’s last trip to the Joyce Center in 2011, the Fighting Irish dominated the Wildcats, 93-72.

“I talked to them about what happened my sophomore year,” Yarou said. “Playing on the road in the Big East is difficult. We have to do what we do every day.”

Leaving campus has been a dicey proposition lately for Villanova. The Wildcats have lost three of their last four conference road games. The lone win came against South Florida on Jan. 9.

A lot has changed for Villanova since then. At that point, nobody was talking postseason basketball for the Wildcats. But the wins over Louisville and Syracuse have given the program some buzz for the first time in two seasons.

While the team is now receiving top-25 votes and being included in mock brackets, the Wildcats were certain that this loss had nothing to do with their heads getting too big.

“We didn’t have any overconfidence,” Hilliard said. “We just didn’t come out and play Villanova basketball like we usually do.”

And when that happens, those two big wins seem a lot further away than last week.

“Right now, we’re an average team,” Wright said. “You win your home games and you don’t get it done on the road.”

Even with the loss, the Wildcats are still where they wants to be: in the discussion for an NCAA tournament bid. But they also know a few bad losses can cause the discussion to be a quick one.

“We have to make sure that we don’t lose confidence after this game,” Wright said. “But I think that’s what we’ve learned after eight games. They are going to bring it.”

With a team full of uncertainties, that’s one thing Wright can count on, and that might not have been true just two weeks ago.

“I think we’re getting better,” Wright said. “I like this group. We battle right to the end.”

The only question now is where that end will be.

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