Justin K. Aller
The Wildcats have everything to play for this weekend, when they travel to Pittsburgh, looking to sure up a bubble that has stayed inflated recently.
Villanova needs a win on Sunday to bolster it's NCAA tournament resume, a loss won't extinguish all hopes of an invitation to the dance, but a win would put the 'Cats a hell of a lot closer. This will be the second meeting for the teams, with the last one resulting in a 58-43 home loss as Nova was in the midst of a three-game mid-January skid.
The Panthers got 38 points from their bench in that game, exercising scoring depth that the 'Cats couldn't match. They shot 36.7% from the floor and 20.0% from distance in the contest, going just 3-15, but forward Durand Johnson connected on 50% from beyond the arc.
Johnson averages just 4.1 points per game this season, but the Panthers average around 35% from deep, which they were held under significantly in that game. Pitt has a couple of players who have been impressive shooting from distance, like Trey Woodall and Lamar Patterson, both shooting over 37%.
Villanova, overall, did a good job defensively against Pitt in their first meeting, but the offense stuttered. The 'Cats will need more scoring and perhaps production from their bench on both sides of the ball if they are going to overcome the odds for the win. The 43-point output was the low-water-mark for the 'Cats at the Pavilion.
The 'Cats are reeling a bit after an unsuccessful road trip to Newark to face Seton Hall.
"I just thought Seton Hall played a tremendous game against us," head coach Jay Wright claimed. "They made 13 threes and it was a typical tough game on the road in the Big East. We got stung at the buzzer.
"We've had a good week of practice and I think we learned from that experience. We have great respect for Pitt and know how tough they are to play at the Petersen Events Center. We know we'll have to play our best basketball there but we are confident and ready to go."
On Villanova's side is a certain degree of necessity. If the 'Cats lose this game, they face a must-win contest at home next week to get to 19 wins before heading to the Big East Tournament in New York. Pitt, meanwhile, has their ticket punched for the NCAA tournament and has very little to play for at this point, except, perhaps seeding and a little "senior day" celebration.
Villanova needs to bring a high intensity level to this contest without wearing themselves down. They have never won in five tries at Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center, and they have been winless in the steel city since February 1996. There should be plenty of reason to fight hard for a win in what might be the last chance to break that streak for a while.