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No. 9 Villanova aims for rebound performance vs. Creighton

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Dec 12, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA;  Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore (5) controls the ball against Baylor Bears guard Adam Flagler (10) during the first half at Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 12, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore (5) controls the ball against Baylor Bears guard Adam Flagler (10) during the first half at Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Wright put together arguably the most challenging schedule in 21 years at Villanova.

While losses might accumulate before the calendar flips to 2022, the difficult games will certainly help as the NCAA Tournament nears.

The Wildcats were trounced 57-36 against No. 2 Baylor on Sunday at Waco, Tex.

No. 9 Villanova (7-3, 0-0) will now look to rebound against another tough opponent as it opens Big East play on the road against Creighton on Friday night.

The Wildcats, who won national championships in 2016 and 2018, shot just 22.2 percent against the Bears, last year’s national champions.

“We didn’t do a bad job defensively,” said Wright, Villanova’s highly successful head coach, who was recently inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “They were just in us at the offensive end — physical, athletic, quick, and we really struggled with it.”

Villanova’s losses have come against Baylor, Purdue and UCLA, all three of which have been ranked as high as No. 2 this season. Even though the Bluejays aren’t ranked, they are familiar with success and are on the way to a seventh-consecutive 20-win season.

Justin Moore led the Wildcats with 15 points at Baylor, while Collin Gillespie was limited to six points in 37 minutes. For the Wildcats to win at Creighton, the duo will need to deliver.

“It was tough on Collin and Justin as they just did a great job loading up on them and then recovering,” Wright said. “There’s a balance between those guys, still trying to be aggressive, trying to beat two guys sometimes and then finding their teammates. I thought they did a good job finding their teammates, but we just couldn’t make shots.”

Creighton will hope to respond after a difficult 58-57 home loss to Arizona State on Tuesday, one game after a neutral-site victory over No. 24 BYU 83-71.

The Bluejays (8-3, 0-0) received 16 points and nine rebounds from Ryan Kalkbrenner and 11 points from Alex O’Connell. But they shot just 5 of 25 from beyond the 3-point arc and dropped consecutive nonconference home games for the first time since December of 2004, after also losing at home to No. 19 Iowa State on Dec. 4.

Creighton’s team is filled with young players and the inexperience has been evident.

“We’re really young, and when you have freshmen, you’re going to try to make them uncomfortable,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said. “That’s what Arizona State attempted to do.”

The Bluejays still managed to stay close despite the poor shooting and suffered a narrow defeat. In order to take down Villanova, they’re going to have to execute at a higher level on offense.

“We fought, we scratched, we clawed — which is what you have to do when a game gets ugly like this when offense is hard to come by,” McDermott said. “We put ourselves in position to win. Just came up a little short.”

Creighton missed six of its last 11 free throws, which ultimately cost the team in the end.

“It’s stuff we’ve got to get cleaned up, and we don’t have long to clean it up,” O’Connell said. “We’ve got to look at the film and move on to the next one.”

–Field Level Media