Perhaps for the rest of the season, too.
Much has been made of Notre Dame's post-season chances and the uncertainty of which tournament the Irish will eventually attend. For Luke Harangody, it's all about taking the season one game at a time and honoring the team's veterans on senior night.
"We have the same goals," he said. "We just have to keep fighting. We have to move on and play the next game Friday night. We have to play for these seniors. Hopefully we will have a good crowd here. They have meant so much to this program over the years and I'd like to see this place packed."
Mike Brey, similarly, is not going to even mention the possibility of the post-season for the remainder of the week.
"Obviously we're going to be in a post-season of some sort, but I don't know if it's worth discussing right now," he said. "I just think, ‘can we get ourselves going and get in a rhythm for these seniors.'"
Senior forward Ryan Ayers did not want to concede the fact that this season's disappointment, however, will likely factor into a substandard and brief post-season.
"Anything can happen," he said. "We will come out with pride and play with heart on Friday against St. John's. It's going to be senior day so it's going to be special. If it takes an unprecedented run in New York to get us to the NCAA Tournament, if that's what it takes, I guess we'll do it. We'll try to change things and get better. We have to stay positive, and get everyone's spirits back up."
SOARING THROUGH THE AYERS: Ayers had a productive day on offense, finding his shooting rhythm early on, especially from three-point range. In the first half, the swingman took six shots, all of which came from beyond the arc, sinking four of them for 12 points.
Perhaps the most impressive play of the first half for Ayers, however, came on the defensive side of the ball. After Notre Dame had carelessly turned the ball over on its half of the floor when it enjoyed a lead, Wildcat point guard Scottie Reynolds looked to have an easy layup attempt that would have closed the gap between the teams. Ayers never gave up on the play, however, hustling back to defend the fast break. Charging from an angle, Ayers soared behind Reynolds, emphatically blocking the point guard's attempted layup with his right hand. The effort drew a roar out of the 11,418 on hand at the Joyce Center, eventually giving the senior a standing ovation for not giving up on the play.
Later on in the half, Ayers once again had another swatted shot. Although not as forceful, this one was just as important, coming at the closing seconds of the first half. With the score tied at 32 apiece with just several ticks remaining, Dante Cunningham hoisted a shot that Ayers was able to get a finger on and alter enough to force the miss.
In the second period, Ayers kept his poise on offense, looking for the ball in his hands, eventually finishing as the Irish leading scorer, going 8-of-12 from the field, for 25 points and four assists.
NASH STARTS: Because of senior Zach Hillesland's bruised sternum, causing coach Brey to declare the forward doubtful for the contest against the Wildcats, sophomore fan-favorite Nash was given his first career start alongside Harangody, composing the Irish frontcourt.
Nash was in the contest for the first six minutes before being replaced by senior Luke Zeller. In his first action on the court, the sophomore forward was active on the glass, picking up three rebounds, one of which was offensive. Nash failed to score, missing on a pair of free throw attempts, a problem that has plagued the young forward this season. Prior to Monday's matchup against Villanova, Nash had shot a collective 16-for-31 from the charity stripe for 51.6-percent.
After sitting on the bench for approximately five minutes, Nash re-entered the game, replacing Jonathan Peoples. While he was on the floor, Nash had the responsibility of keeping senior forward Cunningham in check.
In the second half, Nash kept his aggressive rebounding attitude, eventually finishing the contest with 11 rebounds, four of which were offensive. He also added four points on the evening.
Afterwards, Nash was dejected with the loss, and did not want to speak about his individual performance, but rather the state of the team.
"We didn't win," Nash said. "We just tried to come out hard and play hard in the first half and do the same in the second half." Definitely free throws," Nash said about what he needs to improve on. "I just need to spend more time in the gym at the free throw line and just keep playing hard. Improve working on the boards and my free throws."
Brey, on the other hand, was thrilled with his sophomore's performance.
"Great," was the one word coach Brey needed to describe Nash's first start. "I'm very happy with him. He's been our leading rebounder two games in a row. The life that he's given us, and he's got to continue to be a big part of things, and I love where he's at. Talk about throwing a guy to the wolves. You've got this game, obviously it was a big game, oh and by the way, you're starting tonight. I thought he was fabulous. He's been giving us good stuff."
QUIETING THE CROWD: To start the contest, the atmosphere inside the Joyce Center was electric, charged with the promise of a season-ending winning streak at home. With the matchup going back and forth for the majority of the game, the fans provided Notre Dame with a spark when they faced adversity. However, with 11:04 left in the second half and the contest at a manageable 51-50 in favor of the Wildcats, the Irish slowly played themselves out of reach. Notre Dame did not record a point until the 5:53 mark, allowing Villanova to go on a 12-1 run in that span. Shortly after, the stands began to gradually dissipate, as disappointed fans wanted to avoid the traffic leaving the Joyce Center prior to the final whistle.
DANTLEY HONORED: To the student section's chants of, "A-D" Monday night, Irish basketball legend Adrian Dantley was honored at halftime. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick and assistant athletic director Jim Fraleigh presented Dantley with a framed picture thanking him for his service to the program. Additionally, there was a video tribute, showing highlights of the program's second all-time leading scorer before he took the microphone and addressed the crowd. For the most part, Dantley thanked his friends, family members and the student body, but also offered some words regarding the remainder of the season. "We've got to go out there and win this one, and take care of St. John's," he said. "If we would be hitting our free-throws, we'd be winning this game."