Things were looking grim for the Villanova Wildcats.
The No. 1-ranked team in the nation was losing to DePaul, who hasn’t made the NCAA tournament in over a decade.
Yes, DePaul, the same DePaul that’s been a perennial bottom-feeder of the Big East Conference, especially since realignment. On Wednesday, the Blue Demons were far from being a laughing matter for a joke, as they hung along with the defending national champs for all 40 minutes.
The Wildcats needed an answer to the Blue Demons’ relentless offensive attack. Fortunately for them, they found one in Josh Hart. Hart had 10 points in the last three minutes of action, carrying a battered Villanova to a 68-65 win.
Hart led the team with with 25 points, but the most important three were in the last seconds of the game. Villanova was up by one with 10 seconds left, Hart drained a deep, contested 3-pointer which proved to be the go-ahead basket.
Hart battled throughout the game with DePaul forward Tre’Darius McCallum, who stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. While McCallum had the hot hand, however, the 22 percent shooter from beyond the arc was not able to match Hart as time expired, allowing the Wildcats to escape with a victory.
Villanova started off the game slowly on offense, but made up for it with a brutally effective defensive scheme. Depaul was smothered by the Wildcats, missing all of their 3-point attempts in the first half.
At one point in the second half, Villanova was up by 12, and all signs pointed to an easy 20 or so point victory that the Wildcats usually muster against the Blue Demons. However, DePaul immediately stormed back to take the lead on a 14-0 run, capitalizing on lazy turnovers and hitting outside shots they had previously missed. From that point on, the game was a dogfight, with both teams trading shots and free throws until the final buzzer sounded.
More than anything else in this game, what was exposed was Villanova’s shortage of players in terms of depth.
Starting guard Phil Booth, missed his 10th straight game with a leg injury, shortening coach Jay Wright’s rotation to seven. Wildcats starters averaged 35 minutes apiece against DePaul, and when their shots weren’t falling, there were not many feasible substitutions that could be made.
Booth’s return–and the Wildcats hope sooner, rather than later–will be vital for Villanova as it navigates its way through the Big East. The conference is deeper than it has ever been since conference realignment in 2013. All hands would certainly help them this season.
While the Wildcats will try to evaluate and fix the mistakes made in the DePaul game, they won’t have much time to work with. They are slated for a game against Creighton in a battle of undefeated teams. Tip-off is at 1 p.m. this Saturday.