Villanova opened a daunting portion of its schedule with a relatively easy win over a previously unbeaten team.
It expects to receive bigger challenges with each game of this difficult stretch.The seventh-ranked Wildcats look to win their 10th straight when they face No. 18 Louisville at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.After opening Big East play with double-digit wins over overmatched Rutgers and South Florida, Villanova (14-1, 3-0) defeated then-No. 24 Cincinnati 72-61 on Sunday.Corey Fisher scored 20 of his 21 points in the first half and Maalik Wayns had 13 of his 15 in the second for the Wildcats, who led the Bearcats by as many as 21.Villanova hasn't lost since falling 78-68 to Tennessee in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 26.Keeping the winning streak intact won't be easy. After this game, the Wildcats play their final non-conference contest Saturday against Maryland and then open a three-game road swing Monday against No. 10 Connecticut followed by a trip to fourth-ranked Syracuse on Jan. 22.Although Villanova opened this stretch with a win over a Top 25 team, Cincinnati might have been a bit overrated. The Bearcats climbed into the rankings after easing through a non-conference schedule that ranked 335th out of 345 Division I teams and opening league play with wins over DePaul and Seton Hall.Louisville (13-2, 2-0) will likely be a bit more battle-tested.The Cardinals, who have a Big East-best 55 conference wins since 2006-07, are 2-1 against ranked teams with their lone loss coming to then-No. 11 Kentucky on New Year's Eve. Since that defeat, Louisville beat Seton Hall 73-54 last Wednesday and South Florida 86-77 on Sunday.Against the Bulls, leading scorer Preston Knowles got into early foul trouble and spent the final 13:47 of the opening half on the bench. He came up big late, however, scoring nine of his 12 points in the final four minutes.Stephan Van Treese stepped up in Knowles' absence and finished with career highs of 12 points and 14 rebounds. The sophomore forward averaged 2.3 points and 3.4 boards in his first 14 games for Louisville, which is looking to start 3-0 in Big East play for the third straight year."I just think it's a collective attitude," coach Rick Pitino said. "Don't care who gets a credit, just get a 'W.'"Knowles played just 16 minutes -- more than 10 below his season average."I don't think we're going to win a whole lot of games with Preston spending too much time on the bench," Pitino said.Especially against the Wildcats, who have won 16 of 19 home games in conference play and are heating up from the perimeter.Villanova is shooting 54.8 percent from 3-point range in Big East action after shooting 31.4 percent in its first 12 games. Senior guard Corey Stokes, who is averaging a team-high 16.6 points, has hit 15 of 44 3-pointers (62.5) in his last four contests.The Wildcats have also defended the 3 well, limiting conference opponents to 19.2 percent shooting. The Bearcats went 2 of 20 from beyond the arc."Big East games are so intense, and I think our seniors kept us together," coach Jay Wright said. "We did a good job defending the perimeter."The then-No. 4 Wildcats beat the Cardinals 92-84 in last season's only matchup, snapping a three-game losing streak in the series. The teams have split six meetings in Big East play.