"For us, it's a big game," head coach Mike Brey said. "I talked to them about finishing the halfway segment at 5-3. If we can do that, that would an excellent way of getting us through it. There's a lot of focus on Saturday afternoon and they put it on us last time. It wasn't that long ago. Our guys remember that."
Back on January 17th, the Irish went to Philadelphia to face a Wildcats team in desperate need of a win. Villanova was 1-3 in the league going into the game while Notre Dame was 3-1. The Wildcats played with a sense of urgency in pounding the Irish 102-87. Villanova shot 56 percent in the contest and the 102 points scored were the most allowed ever under Brey in a regulation game. Since then, the Wildcats have rolled off two more wins and they're playing with a lot of confidence heading into the Joyce Center on Saturday.
"Villanova is playing really well and no one is hotter than them," Brey said. "They really put it on us last time. That focus right there with our players probably handles any distractions. To date, they have a pretty good resume. If you have a pretty good thing going, you want to concentrate on that."
The January 17th beat down was a coming out party for Villanova point guard Scottie Reynolds. The 6-2 freshman burned the Notre Dame defense for a career-high 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He also nailed 9-of-10 free throws and dished our four assists. It was a tough night for the Irish's Tory Jackson, who guarded Reynolds for the majority of the evening.
"It's defending and I think that's where Tory was really disappointed," Brey said about the previous match-up. "He's defended better than that all year but Reynolds really got to him. Reynolds is playing as good as any guard in the league. He has a lot of pride and he's waiting for the rematch."
Reynolds is not the only Wildcat player to contend with. Curtis Sumpter, a 6-7 senior forward, can hurt teams from the inside and out on the perimeter. He averages 18.3 points per game, good for third in the Big East. Lately, Sumpter has had to deal with another injury. After sustaining two major knee injuries during his career at Villanova, this one is minor in comparison. Sumpter is dealing with a bone bruise on his leg and it forced him to sit out the win over Texas last weekend. He played 16 minutes in the victory against Providence on Tuesday, contributing seven points and four rebounds.
Mike Nardi is second on the team in scoring. The 6-2 senior is averaging 14 PPG and is a real threat from thee-point range. Dante Cunningham and Will Sheridan both stand at 6-8 and combine to contribute 15 PPG and 11 rebounds a contest. Cunningham in particular has turned it on lately. The sophomore has scored in double digits the past three games, including 19 points the last time these two teams battled. The Wildcats have 10 players who average eight minutes a contest or more.
"They have a lot of bodies that come at you and they come at you with quick, bouncy guys," Brey said. "They can guard you, get loose balls and run the floor and get into the paint. We have to be better about not letting guys in the paint and maybe give up a little bit on the perimeter and hope it doesn't beat us."
Notre Dame will have the advantage of playing at home. The Irish are 14-0 at the Joyce Center this season and riding a 16-game winning streak in South Bend. The top scoring offense in the Big East, they're even better at home. Notre Dame has scored 79 points or more in 13 of 14 contests. They're led by Russell Carter, who is second in the conference in scoring at 18.7 PPG. Brey hopes the crowd will be pumped up and ready to make Villanova's experience at the Joyce Center a loud one.
"It should be a great atmosphere,' Brey said. "I think it's close to being sold out or already sold out. I think it's two good Big East teams. We need that Alabama atmosphere back in here on Saturday afternoon. I hope we can capture some of that."