|St. John's braces for No. 1 Villanova|
Following a pair of difficult Big East victories at the Wells Fargo Center, top-ranked Villanova now must venture out on the road to continue its strong St. John's on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Villanova most recently defeated Marquette and No. 10 Xavier, improving to 15-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big East.
The Red Storm (10-7, 0-5) are scuffling a bit, but they're still quite formidable at home. They have lost five games in a row after a promising 10-2 start.
St. John's lost 69-66 against visiting Georgetown on Tuesday night and also has been dealing with the loss of injured guard Marcus LoVett, who will be out for the entire season.
"The Johnnies were off to a great start before being decimated by injuries," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "Now I think that they have come back around and are learning how to play without LoVett. They've lost some close games without him but have been right there at the end in a position to win. I think they are as dangerous a team as there is in our conference."
Villanova guard Phil Booth scored a career-high 21 points in an impressive 89-65 victory over Xavier on Wednesday.
Wright said he was most impressed his team's defense throughout the game.
"That may have been one of our best defensive games against a high-quality opponent," Wright said. "I thought we had some good defensive games earlier in the schedule but we may not have had the toughest non-conference schedule. To play that well defensively against a great team like Xavier was really important for us. We still have some strides to make defensively and with our rebounding."
Villanova gave up 101 points in an eight-point loss at Butler on Dec. 30. A week later, the Wildcats ousted Marquette but still surrendered 90 points. Their defense against the Musketeers was much stingier, allowing Xavier to shoot just 24 of 58 overall and 3 of 17 from 3-point territory.
"Teams think they can score on us at any time, we took that personally from coach to the captains and all the way down and as team we thought we could do better on the defensive end," Booth said. "Practicing our defense and rebounding is what worked on coming out here. Coach knew what he had to do by doing a lot of defensive concepts in our practices and we just have to keep getting better from there."
In the three-point loss to the Hoyas, St. John's guard Shamorie Ponds led the team with 17 points and six assists. Justin Simon scored 16 points and Marvin Clark II added 15 points and seven rebounds.
The Red Storm will need a gargantuan performance across the board to avoid going 0-6 in the league.
Villanova has won 12 straight games in the series against St. John's.
"I'm not concerned about predictions and expectations," Red Storm coach Chris Mullin told reporters following the loss to Georgetown. "Of those five (conference) games, we had those two duds at home. With those other three, if we can take those defensive efforts and match it with some offensive execution, we are going to be OK. That's exactly what I told my team. The only thing that's going to distract us or keep us down is a negative mindset. We have to be a little less careless with the ball and finish some shots.
"We're not going to try and undo what has gone on, but we just have to keep competing and keep working hard. Things will turn for us."