No. 14 Villanova seeks fifth straight win vs. No. 17 Xavier

Villanova dropped consecutive games to Baylor and Creighton by 20 or more points in mid-December for the first time in head coach Jay Wright’s 21 seasons.

But the Wildcats didn’t wilt.

They haven’t lost since.

No. 14 Villanova (11-4, 4-1 Big East) will look to extend its winning streak to five in a row when it visits No. 17 Xavier Wednesday in Cincinnati.

The Wildcats overcame a slow start and earned a 79-64 victory over DePaul in Chicago Saturday. Collin Gillespie scored a season-best 28 points and Villanova limited the Blue Demons to 25 percent shooting in the second half.

This matchup against Xavier will be another challenging road test.

“Just taking pride in defense,” said Justin Moore, who had 21 points vs. DePaul. “In the first half, we weren’t locked in as much. It’s all five guys, not just the person on the ball.”

Gillespie, a National Player of the Year candidate, came within two points of tying his career high. He also had four assists and four rebounds while providing the leadership necessary to win a road game in the rugged Big East.

“I was just playing off our concepts and our habits, taking the open shots that I got,” Gillespie said. “Trying to get other guys shots going down.”

Villanova defeated Xavier 71-58 on Dec. 21 as it rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit. Wright holds a 15-4 career record against the Musketeers.

The Wildcats have dominated this series with an all-time advantage of 29-6. Xavier’s last win came on Feb. 24, 2019.

Xavier (12-2, 2-1) will aim to continue its home dominance when it hosts Villanova.

The Musketeers have won all nine home games this season.

Last Friday, Xavier traveled to Indianapolis and dismantled Butler 87-72 behind 25 points from Adam Kunkel, one shy of his career high. Paul Scruggs added 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Kunkel scored 18 points in the second half, including eight straight in one spurt to help to seal the victory.

Kunkel’s all-around performance had head coach Travis Steele beaming.

“Kunkel had a great flow and rhythm,” Steele said. “No moment is too big for him. He thrives off the crowd and loves to play on the road. It didn’t surprise us. We know how good he is.”

The resounding victory was mildly surprising considering that Xavier had 17 days off in a COVID pause.

“It felt like we hadn’t played in two years and the kids were dying to play,” Steele said. “We had good practices leading up. That happens when you have good leaders.”

“I think we got a great group,” Kunkel added. “And I think during that break we did a great job of staying focused and just knowing what our goals are this year and not letting that little break get us off track.”

Xavier committed only six turnovers, which helped key the win. Repeating the feat against Villanova’s suffocating defense will be much more daunting.

In the first meeting, the Musketeers scuffled while handling the ball in the second half, which led to the loss.

–Field Level Media