Villanova can't catch a break this season

Villanova's Darrun Hilliard tries to edge out Notre Dame's Eric Atkins for a loose ball in Saturday's demoralizing OT loss.
Villanova's Darrun Hilliard tries to edge out Notre Dame's Eric Atkins for a loose ball in Saturday's demoralizing OT loss. (MICHAEL PEREZ / Associated Press)
Posted: February 20, 2012

Injuries, inexperience, inconsistency . . . it's all eating away at Villanova en route to what likely will be its worst season in the Jay Wright era.

For the second time in five games, the Wildcats coughed up a big lead against a nationally ranked opponent and lost Saturday night, dropping a 74-70 overtime decision to 23d-ranked Notre Dame at the Wells Fargo Center after holding a 20-point lead in the final two minutes of the first half.

Villanova doesn't have time to moan about the loss, however, because it's right back in South Philadelphia on Monday night to take on Connecticut.

The Wildcats (11-15, 4-10 Big East) probably will play again without two injured starters - junior point guard Maalik Wayns (sprained left knee), their top scorer with a 17.8-point average, and sophomore swingman James Bell (sprained left ankle), one of their better three-point shooters.

It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats rebound from Saturday night's disappointment. Their collective disappointment after the Notre Dame loss was etched in the face of their head coach.

"Obviously, it was a tough loss and a game you wish you never had to experience," Wright said. "We've had a couple of those this year. I guess we're paying our dues."

Three weeks earlier, on Jan. 28, the Wildcats blew an 18-point first-half lead against then-No. 17 Marquette and lost, 82-78, at the Wells Fargo Center.

With a minimum of five games remaining (four regular-season, one tournament), the Wildcats have much work to do to avoid only their second losing season in Wright's 11 years on the Main Line. Villanova was 15-16 in 2002-03, his second year at the helm.

The Cats have lost as many as 10 games in the Big East Conference just once since Wright took over when they finished 6-10 in the 2003-04 season, which also is the last time the team failed to make the NCAA tournament.

In fact, the only time 'Nova lost more than 10 games in its 32-year history in the Big East was in 1992-93, Steve Lappas' first season, when the Cats were 3-15 and 8-19 overall.

Wright decided to go with a seven-man rotation against Notre Dame, and it may have cost the Wildcats in overtime when point guard Ty Johnson and Dominic Cheek had to leave the game briefly because of leg cramps. With Wayns and Bell out, the Wildcats have just eight scholarship players available, five of them freshmen.

But the Huskies (16-10, 6-8), the defending national champions, won't feel sorry for them. They have lost six of their last eight games, the most recent a 79-64 loss Saturday to Marquette, and what had been a sure hold on an NCAA berth has loosened a bit.

UConn will play once again without coach Jim Calhoun, who is recovering from spinal stenosis.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494,, or @joejulesinq on Twitter.

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