No. 17 Villanova, looking to end slump, visits Xavier
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Xavier is savoring a surge of momentum thanks to a three-game win streak that has pushed its record above .500.
The Musketeers (14-13, 6-8 Big East) sense another chance to redefine their season when they host No. 17 Villanova (20-7, 11-3) in a conference clash Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati.
Xavier is coming off wins over Creighton, Providence and Seton Hall and is looking to boost its resume for a postseason tournament.
"We've been preaching all year, 'Just us,'" Xavier forward Tyrique Jones, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds Wednesday in a road win over the Pirates, said in comments published by the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It's really starting to show in the way how we played (in our last game). Everybody's really been counting us out.
"We had a rough season so far. We're just trying to put together some wins. We're just catching a roll right now. We're trying to take it one day at a time, competing every day in practice, trying to get better."
Meanwhile, Villanova is seeking a reason to feel good after back-to-back losses against St. John's and Georgetown. The Wildcats have dropped three of their past four games, with all three of the setbacks coming on the road.
The recent skid represents unfamiliar territory for Villanova, which is mired in its first losing streak within the Big East since the conference's reconfiguration in 2013. Since the league switched to a 10-team setup, the Wildcats are 88-16 in regular-season conference action.
Villanova is led in scoring by Phil Booth, who is averaging 18.6 points per game on 44.1 percent shooting. Teammates Eric Paschall (17.3 points per game) and Collin Gillespie (11.4) also are averaging in double digits.
Freshman Saddiq Bey also has provided Villanova with a boost. He is averaging 8.9 points and 5.8 rebounds during Big East play, both up slightly from his overall averages, and he recently was named the conference's rookie of the week for the first time.
Xavier has four players who are averaging in double digits: Naji Marshall (14.3 points per game), Paul Scruggs (12.0), Quentin Goodin (11.7) and Jones (11.5). Zach Hankins is not far off at 9.9 points per contest.
Gillespie will look to get back on track for Villanova after struggling in his past four contests. The sophomore has shot 7 of 34 (20.6 percent) from the field and 4 of 25 (16 percent) from beyond the arc during that stretch.
"You would (worry) with certain people, but not him," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in comments published by the Philadelphia Daily News. "He's such a confident kid, and he's got a good perspective. He gets it. He just gets it, that sometimes he's going to go through a streak like that."
This is the second and final regular-season meeting between the teams. Villanova won 85-75 on its home court Jan. 18 thanks in large part to 22 points and five assists from Booth.
Xavier is 10-5 on its home court. Villanova is 5-5 on the road.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 23, 2019