Villanova fails to make statement at Notre Dame

ASSOCIATED PRESS Villanova's JayVaughn Pinkston holds his eye after being poked by Notre Dame's Zach Auguste.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Villanova's JayVaughn Pinkston holds his eye after being poked by Notre Dame's Zach Auguste.
Posted: January 31, 2013

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Villanova was coming off a week in which it had gotten the best of two Top 5 teams, both in South Philly. Yet in a lot of ways, getting past Notre Dame on Wednesday night at the Purcell Pavilion might have said even more.

"You have to go on the road and get it done," acknowledged coach Jay Wright. "We really could have made a statement, to ourselves."

There's a reason the Fighting Irish were nearly double-digit favorites. They'd won 47 of their last 50 on their home floor. Of course, two of those blemishes had come in the last three here, including a 16-pointer 9 days earlier to Georgetown.

So . . .

The Wildcats, who led at halftime for the 15th straight time, were up by three with 14 minutes to go. Ten minutes later, they trailed by eight. And that was still the margin with just over 90 seconds left. Notre Dame would give them a chance, by missing the front end of two one-and-ones. Then, Darrun Hilliard's three-pointer from the left wing made it a three-point game with 24 seconds showing. But following a turnover, another Hilliard three from the opposite side, this one under more duress, didn't really come close. Jack Cooley got his 16th rebound and converted two free throws at 13.3. A Mouphtao Yarou layup 8 seconds later made it close, but a breakaway lay-in by Eric Atkins off a long inbounds pass made it official.

Notre Dame 65, Villanova 60.

The Irish (17-4, 5-3 Big East) had just dropped out of the Top 25 and Villanova (13-8, 4-4) had just started receiving votes in the poll.

On Sunday the Wildcats will get Providence on the Main Line, the start of a three-game stretch in which they'll play the bottom three teams in the standings. But they did lose at Providence by three on Jan. 19.

"There's just something different about playing on the road in the Big East," said Hilliard, who finished with 14 points after getting a career-high 25 Saturday against Syracuse. "Teams are playing on a whole new level. You have to bring your game to another level.

"Coach has really been on us about staying humble, and doing what we did before those two games. He said those two games can't be our season. I don't think anything was missing. We did the things we're supposed to do. We just didn't do it hard enough. I mean, I don't think we had any overconfidence."

They're not good enough for that.

"I wasn't worried, as much as interested in seeing how we were going to react, because we haven't had that kind of success, so we haven't had to respond to that," Wright explained. "We knew how important this was, coming off those games, meaning, 'OK, if you're a really good team, you win those home games and then you go on the road and you beat a real good team.' If you do that, then you've done something.

"Notre Dame made more plays down the stretch. They did just enough to get the win. We're very disappointed we didn't. This puts us back, lets us know there's still a lot we have to do. Right now we're an average team. But I think we know who we are. I've got to make sure we don't lose confidence after this."

Cooley, the only player in the Big East who's averaging a double-double, also scored 17. Jerian Grant had 12 points, 10 assists and four steals. In fact, Notre Dame had 20 assists on 24 field goals. And only one turnover in the second half. But it was freshman Cameron Biedscheid who burned Villanova the most. He finished with a career-high 18, 15 after intermission, on 5-for-7 shooting from the arc. In his previous seven Big East games, he'd scored 25.

The Wildcats got 20 points from Mouphtaou Yarou (8-for-12), which matched his season high after he had a season-best 16 boards against the Orange. They outscored the Irish by seven at the foul line, and only had nine turnovers, about half their average and one off their season low. But they went 3-for-11 from three. They're 10-0 when they make at least six.

"On the road in the Big East, there are no small teams," Yarou noted. "I tried to talk to my teammates about what happened my sophomore year here [21-point loss]. We need to make sure that we are playing harder than the other team.

"We are just trying to be the best that we can be by the end of the year. Tomorrow we are going to get back to work. Nothing different. We'll pick each other up. We have to keep playing.

"We're not thinking about payback. For us, it's the next game."

And it'll be at their Pavilion, though they've already lost three times there. You think maybe the Wells Fargo Center can be ready by then after Wing Bowl XXI? Just a thought.

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