Flop Cats

Villanova's Corey Fisher dribbles past Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough. The shellacking in South Bend, Ind., could jeopardize the 'Nova's chances in the Big East tournament.
Villanova's Corey Fisher dribbles past Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough. The shellacking in South Bend, Ind., could jeopardize the 'Nova's chances in the Big East tournament.

Not-so-super ’Nova fires blanks, falls to Irish

Posted: March 01, 2011

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Villanova has been in a slump for almost three weeks. And when a team is in a dire situation like that, it can't have its first "uh-oh" moment a mere 28 seconds into the game.

But that's what happened Monday night when Carleton Scott drained a three-pointer on Notre Dame's initial possession, the start of what would be a school-record 20 three-balls for the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish in their 93-72 senior-night romp over the No. 19 Wildcats at Purcell Pavilion.

The Wildcats (21-8, 9-8 Big East), who lost their third straight game and fifth in their last seven, got off to another horrible start and were paddling upstream against an angry current once again. But this one was the worst yet during the funk that started with the last-second, 77-76 loss at Rutgers on Feb. 9.

This was an embarrassing showing before ESPN's final Big Monday national television audience of the season. For the second time in three games, the Wildcats showed little, if any, sense of urgency and looked resigned to finishing in the bottom half of the Big East standings.

The problem was the Cats' nonexistent three-point defense. The Fighting Irish, who hit four of their first five shots from beyond the arc, connected on 62.5 percent of their three-point tries and finished with the most by a Big East team this season.

Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough combined for 16 treys on 23 attempts, most of them uncontested, and finished with 30 points each for the Fighting Irish (24-5, 13-4).

"When they start the game like that, you've got to make a choice," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Are we going to try to sit back and inch back into it or are we going to go after them? So we tried to go after them, which, obviously, didn't work.

"So I just look at it as another bump in our road, and we've had a few here. But I don't look at it as disastrous - as disastrous as it did look. But I don't look at it long-term this way."

It definitely was not pretty. The Wildcats fell behind by 25 in the first half and trailed by as many as 32 midway through the second. The Fighting Irish led by 47-27 at the break and the Cats only got closer once in the second half. That didn't come until 1 minute, 32 seconds remained.

For the second straight game, Villanova did not hold a lead. In fact, the Wildcats have not held a lead going back 115 minutes, 14 seconds, or since early in the first half of their Feb. 21 game against Syracuse. The Cats were tied at 6 with the Orange before going behind for good, and 2-2 with St. John's on Saturday before the Red Storm grabbed the lead and kept it.

With this poor play, what is becoming more likely is that the Wildcats will not get a first-round bye in the Big East tournament, and would have to start the five-day tournament next Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Corey Fisher broke out of an 0-for-21 drought on three-point attempts with a pair of baskets from deep in the second half. But that, and the fact that he led the Wildcats with 22 points, was of little consolation. The larger concern is 'Nova's confidence.

"Losing three in a row, that's not a good feeling," Fisher said. "With the younger guys, they've got to keep their confidence up. Some of the guys have never been through this, a tough stretch in the Big East. We played a great team today and we've got another game against Pitt. But there's nothing you could do about it. You've just got to take the opportunity to get better."

Wright also admitted some apprehension about the Wildcats' psyche. His team just had been dominated by the current second-place inhabitant in the conference, and now Villanova has to close out its regular season Saturday at No. 4 Pittsburgh, the first-place squad.

"Probably that's the most fragile part of this, their psyche," Wright said. "That's our challenge right now. You knew that when you saw that schedule in the beginning of the season, that if we're not playing well at the end of the season, this is going to be a hell of a stretch. Even if we are playing well, this could have been a tough stretch.

"Obviously we're not playing well. I can't hide that. But we're not giving up and we're not looking at this as disastrous."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.


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