Loss to Providence a setback for Villanova

CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Providence's Bryce Cotton celebrates after hitting game-winning three-pointer.
CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Providence's Bryce Cotton celebrates after hitting game-winning three-pointer.
Posted: February 04, 2013

WHAT A difference another week made.

Oops, that was last weekend's Villanova lead. But it still applies. Only this time, in reverse.

The Wildcats lost to Providence Sunday afternoon at the Pavilion, 55-52. It was their second three-point loss to the undermanned Friars, who aren't making the NCAA Tournament, in 15 days.

Last Saturday's win over Syracuse in South Philly, coupled with one over Louisville 5 days earlier, had elevated them from nowhere into the 68-team field, according to bracketologists everywhere.

Now, at least for the time being, they're back to being NIT material. So much for momentum.

The Wildcats (13-9, 4-5 Big East) have lost five of their last seven. The two wins were over top five opponents. Factor that into your RPI.

Unlike at Notre Dame on Tuesday, this was a game they had to get. Instead, they lost on their campus for the fourth time.

The postseason is still more than a month away. But anyone with a home loss to Columbia that's been swept by Providence (11-11, 3-7) figures to have a little making up to do.

At least in this neighborhood they'll have their share of opportunities. Hopefully that's the good news.

They're at De Paul (10-11, 1-7) Tuesday. Another one they have to get. We'll see. At this point the only thing for certain is there are no guarantees.

"Bring you helmet," coach Jay Wright advised. "Be careful. They'll press us. Balls will be flying all over the place."

The Wildcats, who didn't lead at the half for the first time in 17 games, trailed by nine with 2 1/2 minutes left. That's what happens when you miss 15 of 16 shots, including 10 in a row, and go 10 minutes without a bucket.

Then the Friars, who were down to nine guys with the "voluntary leave of absence" of forward Sidiki Johnson, turned it over five straight times. And Villanova started getting to the foul line. Finally, two free throws by James Bell tied it with 42.9 seconds showing.

Villanova did a nice job at the other end and got Vincent Council to miss from the left elbow. But Josh Fortune, who'd burned the Wildcats big-time from the arc, tipped it back out and Providence had another chance. Bryce Cotton, the Big East's leading scorer at 21 a game, didn't waste it. His trey from the key went through at 2.2. It was Providence's first points in 4 1/2 minutes. Following a timeout, the best the Wildcats could do was get a midcourt heave from center Mouphtao Yarou, who actually was only a shade long.

"For the second [straight] game, we just had that stretch in the second half where we didn't execute on offense and gave up some threes, and it turned out to be the difference," Wright said. "In that sense, it was almost the same [as Notre Dame].

"We're not good enough to do that."

Providence had two players foul out, including big man Kadeem Batts, who averages 14 and seven. This time he got only two and three, in 17 minutes. Didn't matter. The Friars, who were down by 10 after 10 minutes, went 10-for-15 from three. As opposed to 8-for-31 from two. Or even 9-for-15 at the line (and they made their last four to do that).

But it was Fortune who did the unexpected damage. Just as another freshman, Cameron Biedscheid, had done out in South Bend. Fortune got his 15 points, nine more than his average, by going 5-for-5 from deep. Before that in the Big East he'd been 7-for-24. Who said it has to compute?

"It's a lot of little things," Wright offered. "I know it doesn't look good. From the outside, you say there's two teams maybe you should have beat, and two teams you could have beat and did, so what's going on? So many things go into it. I don't want the kids to panic. The results are the results. It's such a fine line. In this league, that's going to cost you. You can't let it be frustrating. It's just what we are right now.

"It's not that I'm accepting this, but I know we're close . . . The best thing is, we're playing [again] Tuesday. We just have to keep grinding."

The Wildcats, whose next win will still give them one more than last season, got 10 points and 14 rebounds from the suddenly consistent Yarou, who also had two blocks and two steals. Hilliard scored 17, but went 3-for-13 from the field and 1-for-5 from three. He also had five turnovers. Villanova shot 14-for-51, 2-for-15 from the arc. Good thing the Wildcats were 22-for-26 on freebies.

"You have to know that in this league, you can get beat any night," Hilliard said. "We didn't want to get too high [after Syracuse]. We don't want to get too low [now], either.

"We'll keep playing. We'll be back."

Added Yarou: "We know we have a young team. It's not as bad as it seems."

In other words, who knows how the next week will play out? Or the one after that . . .

Just remember to pack the necessary headgear.

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