In 2013 Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats closed out a 20-14 season by losing their final games to Louisville and North Carolina.
It hasn’t happened since.
In the near five years that have passed during which Nova has gone 143-18, won a national championship while players have come and gone, one thing has remained consistent: The Wildcats have not dropped two-in-a-row,
Which made things kind of miserable on the Main Line from the time the Cats lost at Butler Dec. 30 to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten and No 1 in the rankings until they finally could take the court Saturday night against Marquette. All Villanova did then was lead wire-to-wire, as they have often this season, putting away the stubborn Warriors, 100-90 to run their record to 14-1 and move back to the top of the charts.
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“We try to learn from winning,” said Wright afterwards, downplaying the fact he’d just recorded his 400th win at ‘Nova, moving him within 13 of Al Severance’s school record. “We try to not judge ourselves on whether we won or lost the game but on how we’re playing Villanova l basketball. Sometimes we win and know we’re not doing a good job of it. When you lose it’s obvious. Then they refocus and recommit. That’s just a sign of their intelligence and character .”
Perhaps. But five years? Even Wright can’t quite comprehend that.
“I never think about that,” admitted Wright, who’ll have his hands full going for No. 401 tomorrow when No. 10 ranked Xavier comes to town. “Every time someone says it to me I think that it’s really cool. I like it a lot.
“I’m proud of our guys but I never think about it. I’m proud of it, but I’ll forget about it tomorrow.”
While he downplays it, his peers are almost in awe.
“Jay’s as good a coach as there is in the U.S.” said Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski ,who once played for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. “In my mind he’s a future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer. The league right now goes through Villanova. I think he handles the mantle of being marquee coach in our conference with as much class and dignity as you can handle it. He’s created an incredible program at Villanova and done it with great kids that represent the university in s first class manner, much like their coach.”
With All-America point guard Jalen Brunson (27 points, 8 assists) leading the way, Wojo says these Wildcats have everything it takes to be cutting down the nets again in April.
“We knew coming into the game that we were going to see the best Villanova basketball as they came off a loss and had a week to prepare,” said Wojciechowski, “In my humble opinion the best Villanova has to offer is as good as there is in the country. When you make a mistake against them they make you pay. To me that’s one of the reasons they’re great. They don’t beat themselves and when you make a mistake they punish you for it.”
According to Brunson, there’s another reason for the Cats’ success: They’re never satisfied, especially following those rare occasions they lose.
“I think the most important thing I’ve learned here is that win or lose a game we’re coming back the next day to get better,” explained Brunson, one of six Wildcats in double figures, which enabled them to offset Markus Howard’s 37-point eruption. “So if we lose a game obviously it’s going refocus us. We’re not perfect. We’re just striving to be the best we can be.”
Despite surrendering 276 points the last three games — well above their norm — Wright feels things are starting to come together.
“We have to keep improving defensively,” said Wright, whose club was stunned by a Butler team which shot a blistering 15-for-22 (68percent) from 3-point range. “We did take a little step tonight. We know we’re going in a good direction, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
As for No. 400 Wright will file that milestone away for another day.
“ I don’t want to sound like one of those old stodgy guys,” he laughed. “I promise one day I’ll look back on it with great pride. I’ve happy to have been here that long. It’s really nice.”
The feeling, the admiration is mutual with one exception: Having to play Villanova when they’re coming off a loss.