NCAA BK

Villanova wary of last-place DePaul

Second-ranked Villanova hopes to avoid another nail-biting ending when it meets last-place DePaul on Monday at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.

In a Big East season opener on Dec. 28, the then-No. 1 Wildcats saw a lead dwindle to just one point with 90 seconds to play before prevailing 68-65 thanks to two late Josh Hart free throws.

Villanova has since gone 11-2 and has won five straight following a 74-72 upset loss at Marquette on Jan. 24.

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The Wildcats beat No. 24 Xavier 73-57 on Saturday for head coach Jay Wright's 500th career win as sophomore Jalen Brunson and redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo each scored 17 points.

Villanova was without center Darryl Reynolds, who sat out Saturday's game with a rib injury and could miss the DePaul game as well. Redshirt freshman forward Tim Delaney is also sidelined and awaiting surgery on his left hip this week.

"I'm just proud of our senior leadership," said Wright after the Xavier game. "We are so lucky. Kris (Jenkins) and Josh (Hart) have just been through everything. ... I'm really proud of how they led us in this game."

Four Villanova players are averaging in double figures led by Hart's league-leading 18.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. The Big East preseason player of the year is also third in the conference in rebounding.

Villanova looks to move another step closer to its fourth straight Big East title, and after Monday, will have just four more league games before the conference tournament. But the reigning national champions are also mindful about what follows as they also eye a potential No. 1 NCAA tournament regional seed.

Despite the closeness of the previous meeting, Villanova has dominated the DePaul series with 13 straight victories and an overall 23-8 lead alltime.

DePaul (8-17, 1-11) has dropped eight straight and was thumped in the second half last Saturday as No. 23 Creighton rolled to a 93-58 victory.

"(They've) got a really good team that has their eyes set on March against a team that's trying to find their way to build their confidence," Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao said after that game. "It was a bad recipe for them playing well and for us not doing too many things too well."

Villanova is DePaul's third straight ranked opponent this month. The Blue Demons, who have yet to beat a Top 25 team this season, complete a four-game run of ranked foes on Sunday at No. 22 Butler.

Scoring leader Billy Garrett Jr. collected 10 points against Creighton to crack the Blue Demons' all-time top 10. He now has 1,536 career points, with No. 9 Dallas Comegys (1,613 points between 1983-87) his next target.

DePaul has lost 13 of its last 14 games, with the lone victory coming on Jan 10 -- a 64-63 home win over Providence. The Blue Demons also took then-No. 13 Butler into overtime before falling 70-69 on Jan 21.