Villanova at a loss against Creighton

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Creighton's Isaiah Zierden lands on top of Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono while battling for ball in second half of last night's game.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Creighton's Isaiah Zierden lands on top of Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono while battling for ball in second half of last night's game.
Posted: January 22, 2014

WELL, you didn't really think Villanova was going to go through the rest of the regular season without losing another game, did you?

Still, how many figured that when it did inevitably happen it would go down like this?

On the day the Wildcats moved up two spots to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, their highest ranking in 4 years, they got absolutely rolled by Creighton at the Wells Fargo Center last night, 96-68.

It might not have been that close.

It was Villanova's worst loss since a 37-pointer at Kentucky in 1997. It was also the most points against the Wildcats in this building, and their largest margin of defeat.

The Bluejays had just fallen from 20th to barely out of the Top 25 after losing by 13 Saturday at Providence, a team Villanova had beaten by 30 earlier this month on the Main Line.

Villanova, Creighton and Xavier are now the only Big East teams with one conference loss. The Wildcats, who go to underachieving Marquette on Saturday for the first of three straight on the road, will get a rematch in Omaha on Feb. 16. We'll see if that's the good news.

It was pretty much over quickly. That's because Creighton (16-3, 6-1), which converts 42 percent from the arc, drained its first nine shots, all from deep, in a little over the opening 6 minutes. They made them from the wing, the corner and straightaway. A few were from NBA-range. Some were open looks, others at least relatively contested. It hardly mattered. Senior forward Ethan Wragge, not All-America forward Doug McDermott, did most of the damage with seven of the first nine. Not shockingly, a guy averaging 11.7 points now has a new career high of 27.

"I've never seen that before, in person," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "But I've seen them do that before. Just not to us."

Against Providence the Bluejays had only four triples, two by Wragge (in eight attempts). The 21 they made this time (of 35) is a Big East record. Wragge accounted for nine (on 14). No individual has ever made more against the Wildcats. Two decades ago Redlands had 24 against them in the team category. Wragge tied the Creighton record originally set by one-time Sixer Kyle Korver in 2003.

Villanova (16-2, 5-1), which had won five in a row since wasting an early 18-point lead at No. 2 Syracuse on Dec. 28, trailed by 28 but somehow got to within 13 by the break. Then a 24-2 spurt by the visitors, which included six threes, took care of things for keeps.

"We've played a lot of good games, and some where we haven't been on top of it," Wright said. "If you get behind against a team like that, it's tough to overcome. We just weren't ourselves. You have to fight through that.

"We tried our press. That's what we do. But we didn't get any traps early, and they did a great job of moving the ball and opening the floor up. When you let a team like that get hot, you're in trouble. It's the first time we weren't aggressive enough. We came out tentative. This team will make you pay, I think more than any. We got lit up."

McDermott (8-for-13, 5-for-8 from beyond the arc), who beat Saint Joseph's with a late shot at Hagan Arena in late November, had 23, two off his average. Jahenns Manigat (6-7, 4-5) had 19, 11 above his. Creighton had 25 assists on 33 baskets, and just eight turnovers. The Jays shot almost as well from three as they did from the foul line.

James Bell led the Wildcats with 19. Their other numbers were largely irrelevant.

"I think we're sending a message to the whole country that we can play with anyone," said McDermott, who won a second-round NCAA game here last March over Cincinnati before getting sent home by Duke. "A lot of people questioned our defense. We can shoot the ball, but we can defend too."

Not that they really had to. At some point the only way the Wildcats were getting back in it was by throwing up some fours.

"We don't pay attention to any rankings," said junior Darrun Hilliard. "We just have to continue doing what we do. Nothing else besides that.

"They hit shots. But we didn't play as well as we could."

Duly noted. And the journey moves on to the next obstacle.

"A little humility never hurt anyone," Wright said. "It's still early in the season. You can win and learn. We certainly don't like to do it this way. It hurts. You go through it and come back the next day. Even if we'd won, it's part of the season. We'd have to get ready for Marquette. It's a tough stretch . . .

"Something like this can be a good thing, but I don't think we needed it. We had their attention."

Just in case, maybe this will make it even more undivided.

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