PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Villanova hit the bottom in early December. The Wildcats had dropped four games — as many as they had lost each of the last two seasons — and they were confronted with troubling questions.
Coach Jay Wright was stumped as the Wildcats tumbled out of the Top 25.
"This is the reality," he said of the early season malaise. "How long is this going to take?"
Not long at all.
Phil Booth and Eric Paschall turned into a two-person show for the No. 18 Wildcats, powering the team out of its early funk. Booth and Paschall combined to outscore Seton Hall in the first half and the Wildcats thumped the Pirates 80-52 on Sunday for their eighth consecutive victory.
"The way Booth and Paschall are playing, you give them that many opportunities, they're going to get you," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said.
Booth hit seven 3-pointers and scored 25 points. Paschall finished with 17 points, going over 1,000 for his career. They combined for 10 of Villanova's 17 3s and made 15 of the team's 28 baskets.
Booth and Paschall have picked up the scoring slack for a program that needed to find chemistry after it lost four players to the NBA draft. Now it looks as if it's rolling toward another conference crown under Wright.
"I think we're starting to trust each other more," Booth said.
Against the Pirates, Paschall and Booth combined for six 3s and 26 points in the first half. The duo outscored Seton Hall 26-20 and the Wildcats led by 10 at the break. Booth missed a 3, the offensive rebound got kicked out to him and he nailed a 3 from the top of the arc to make it 30-20.
The national champions still have some kinks to work out to become a deep threat in March — namely, finding a third scorer — but again should be a low single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Saddiq Bey was the only other scorer in double digits (10 points), which is a surprise for any team that held a 35-point lead. The Wildcats (16-4, 7-0 Big East) know they'll need more than senior stars Paschall and Booth to win big games in March.
"I worry about that," Wright said. "Not that they're not good enough to carry us. I just don't want to wear them out."
He wants his underclassmen like Bey and Collin Gillespie to start to assert themselves as offensive threats. Gillespie hit Villanova's ninth 3-pointer to push the lead to 45-26 and blow the game open in the second half.
"We've got to get into those situations where they're forced to do it and they get it done," Wright said.
The other three Wildcats on the court weren't forced to do much else but offer some high-fives each time Booth and Paschall hit 3s. The Wildcats held Seton Hall to just nine baskets through the first 26 minutes in a Big East mismatch.
The Pirates (12-8, 3-5) remain 0-for-Nova on the road since 1994. The Wildcats have won 17 straight games on their home court against Seton Hall (15-0 Pavilion; 2-0 Wells Fargo Center).
Seton Hall had 14 turnovers in the first half and missed 8 of 10 3-pointers, the latest inept performance against a Villanova program the Pirates have not defeated since 2016.
The Wildcats lost back-to-back games to Michigan and Furman in November and had consecutive losses to Penn and Kansas in December. Now it's back to blue-blood reality for the Wildcats — even if the winning streak has masked some deficiencies.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Wright said.
Seton Hall: The Pirates have lost five of six games and continue to struggle on defense after allowing 97 points last time out to DePaul. It's hard to believe this is the same team that beat Kentucky and Maryland in December. ... Myles Cale scored 14 points and leading scorer Myles Powell (22.2 points) was held to just three points.
"You're going to get smacked down every once in a while," Willard said.
Villanova: The Wildcats need to tighten up their free-throw shooting. They made just 7 of 13 attempts.
Seton Hall had 18 turnovers and the Wildcats had 14.
Seton Hall hosts Providence on Wednesday.
Villanova plays Wednesday night at DePaul.
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