|No. 22 Villanova continues climb as Xavier visits|
Villanova wasn't feeling so great about itself in mid-December after suffering back-to-back losses against Penn and Kansas.
But the mood feels much different one month later.
The No. 22 Wildcats (13-4, 4-0 Big East) are thriving these days and look to record their sixth straight victory when they host Xavier (11-7, 3-2) on Friday night in a conference matchup.
Villanova began to right itself with an 81-58 trouncing of Connecticut on Dec. 22 and continued its surge with four straight conference wins, the latest being a 90-78 road win over Creighton on Sunday.
Senior guard Phil Booth has been one of the catalysts of the turnaround. He had 28 points and seven assists against Creighton and is averaging 24.7 points over the past three outings.
"He's got an incredible humility about him," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "When you need him, he's there. If you don't need him, he's doing all the little things and not complaining. It's what makes him a great leader and a great player."
Booth is averaging a team-leading 18.2 points and is receiving plenty of help from senior power forward Eric Paschall, who averages 16.5 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds.
Paschall scored 21 points against Creighton for his fourth 20-point effort in the past five games. He is averaging 20.8 points during the stretch.
While Wright certainly appreciates the duo's efforts, he's worried about being too reliant on the pair. He is hoping to see some other players step up during the second half of the season.
"It's what we need if we're going to be a good team," Wright said. "Phil and E can't carry us the whole season -- they'll get worn down."
Xavier is looking to get on a roll of its own and it has shown life with back-to-back victories over Georgetown and Butler.
The Musketeers recorded the wins despite the absence of junior point guard Quentin Goodwin, who is in danger of missing his third straight game due to a knee injury.
"He's rehabbing," Xavier coach Travis Steele told reporters. "Hopefully we'll get him back here soon. But if not, it's next man up. I love the mentality our guys have had when he's been out."
Sophomore guard Paul Scruggs has filled in at the point the past two games and it certainly hasn't hurt his production. He knocked down a career-high five 3-pointers while recording 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists in Sunday's 70-69 win over Butler.
"Yeah, I'm comfortable," Scruggs told reporters after the contest. "I knew what I had to do so I just stepped up in that role."
Scruggs and sophomore forward Naji Marshall share the team scoring leadership at 13.2 points per game. Marshall averages a team-best 7.5 rebounds.
Senior guard Kyle Castlin was a surprise standout in the Butler contest with a season-best 12 points to go with seven rebounds. Castlin played 35 minutes after playing a total of 42 in Xavier's previous four games.
"He was much more decisive than he was the previous four or five games," Steele said of Castlin. "You could tell he was gonna shoot when he caught the ball. He didn't think about it, even on his drives."
Villanova has dominated the series with four straight victories and holds a 26-5 edge.
--Field Level Media