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Sports Darrun Hilliard dropped 14 points in Saturday’s loss to Providence. (Lucas Miglianino / The Villanovan)

by Ryan Peloquin

The Villanova Wildcats dropped their third straight Big East matchup in a tough defeat to the Friars last Saturday night.

After rattling off seven straight wins, including impressive wins against St. John’s and South Florida, the Wildcats have now dropped three straight to Syracuse, Pittsburgh and now Providence.

There were signs of hope in the losses to Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The ’Cats took a two-point lead into halftime against the No.7 Orange in the Carrier Dome, but struggled against Jim Boehim’s squad in the second half, shooting only 32 percent from the field by the end of the game.

Coming out flat after the half has been a recurring theme for the Wildcats. Villanova took a lead into halftime against Pittsburgh as well, but lost in a blowout mainly due to a 15-0 Panther run to end the game.

The Wildcats have been outscored 126-87 in the second half during this three-game skid.

The second half struggles continued on Saturday as the ’Cats took a seven point lead into halftime against the Friars.

Villanova came out of halftime lacking focus yet again. The Wildcats finished the game with 25 turnovers, including seven in the first 12 second-half possessions.

“I thought we played a good first half,” said Coach Jay Wright when asked about last Saturday’s 69-66 loss to Providence. “In the second half, we turned it over too much. When you have 25 turnovers you are going to have a hard time winning the game.”

All 10 Wildcats who entered the game had more turnovers than assists. The assist-to-turnover ratio was 0.36. This anemic statistic would rank dead last over an entire season, considering the lowest average is 0.55.

Providence junior guard Bryce Cotton showed why he leads the Big East in scoring as he led the second half charge for the Friars, finishing with a game high of 24. Senior guard Vincent Council added 15 for the Friars.

Given the offensive rebounding, turnovers and foul numbers, it is shocking that the Wildcats held the lead with five minutes left in the second half.

Villanova was outrebounded on the offensive end 19-9 and had a turnover differential of -12.

“I just think [the Friars] are a great offensive rebounding team,” said Wright. “They are very quick to the basketball.”

Add in the Wildcats 32 fouls to Providence’s 23, and it’s fairly easy to see how the now 10-8 (2-4) Friars defeated the struggling ‘Cats, who fall to 11-7 (2-3).

Redshirt sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston fouled out towards the end of play, which was another sign of struggle for the Wildcats. Villanova ranks second in the entire nation at getting to the free throw line, at 27.3 attempts per game.

However, the Friars went to the charity stripe an astounding 48 times. They only converted on 60 percent of their opportunities, but a majority of their points came from free throws. This an area in which Villanova normally triumphs.

Pinkston continues to be the Wildcats’ best offensive option, posting 20 points on eight of 10 shooting coming off the bench. Sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard dropped 14, while freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono added 10. Leading ’Nova in rebounding was sophomore guard Achraf Yacoubou, who grabbed seven boards.

The Wildcats have struggled on the offensive end all season. Entering this week’s games, the Wildcats are 294th in the nation in field goal percentage (40.6 percent) and 173rd in three-point field goal percentage (33.5 percent).

Villanova simply has an inability to create good scoring opportunities, particularly in the halfcourt. They are 291st in assists, with only 12 per game.

For some perspective, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 9.4 assists per game individually. In fact, Carter-Williams nearly won the assist battle single-handedly when the Orange defeated the ’Cats last Saturday. The Wildcats had 10 dimes as a team. The Orange guard had seven.

As the numbers suggest, the Wildcats have been prone to extended scoring droughts all season. They only made two baskets in the first six minutes of the opening half, and just one in the final five minutes of that half. The Wildcats were then outscored 13-4 at the start of the second half in Saturday’s loss.

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