Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Villanova guard Maalik Wayns felt like he let his team down after scoring just points in a 79-66 home loss to then-No. 1 Syracuse Jan. 11.
Wayns went 0-for-7 in the game and managed just three foul shots in 34 minutes.
“I felt like I let my team down that game,” Wayns said Saturday. “We came back to practice the next day to get better and my coaches and my teammates have total confidence in me and they told me to put it behind me.”
So far, so good.
After going for a team-high 28 points in Villanova’s 79-76 overtime win over St. John’s, Wayns has piled up 92 points in his last three games and was named Big East Player of the Week as a result.
He poured in a career-high 39 in a loss at Cincinnati Jan. 14 and added 25 in a win over Seton Hall Jan. 18. He’s also added 20 rebounds and 16 assists in those three games.
For the season, Wayns is averaging 18.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds.
“He’s really learning how to be aggressive as a scorer and also be a distributor,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said.
“This year he’s got to do everything, he’s got to do it every night, and he’s really starting to get a feel for it. I’m really proud of him and he’s starting to develop into one of the best players in the country, I think.”
Villanova freshman JayVaughn Pinkston of Brooklyn has also come on recently and earned Big East Rookie of the Week honors. After going for a career-high 23 in the Seton Hall win, the 6-7 Pinkston added 13 points and 12 boards (along with seven turnovers) against the Johnnies. He’s averaging 8.5 points and 4.7 boards.
“I think what really makes him tough is the fact that he has a very quick first step,” Pirates coach Kevin Willard said. “When you watch him on film he doesn’t seem like he has that quick first step, but I think once he puts it on the ground he’s got great ball skill and he can really attack you and use his strength and his physicality to get to the rim…
“I think he has tremendous upside. He’s a guy that throughout AAU and hgih school could really shoot the basketball and really liked to shoot the basketball. I think Jay’s done a great job with him of really getting him to understand that he can really make a lot of money in this game if he uses that body inside and goes inside.”
Villanova junior wing Dominic Cheek, the former St. Anthony star, added 20 points and seven rebounds in the St. John’s game and is averaging 12.4 points and 4.3 rebounds on the season.
After making seven straight NCAA Tournaments,Villanova (10-10, 3-5 Big East) is in serious jeopardy of missing out on the Big Dance.
Their upcoming schedule is not forgiving.
They must play at Louisville Wednesday, and still must go to Pittsburgh, South Florida, Georgetown and Rutgers.
Making the Big Dance looks like a tough ask at this point, but if Wayns, Pinkston and Cheek keep playing at a high level, the Wildcats could make some headlines down the stretch.
“We keep getting better,” Wayns said, “and it’s allowing me to play pretty well.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.