Despite Villanova’s spring break and a lurking snowstorm, the crowd in attendance for Sunday’s afternoon matchup between the No. 9 Villanova Wildcats(26-3, 14-2) and the Marquette Golden Eagles(17-12, 9-7) at the Wells Fargo Center was very impressive. After a tight race in the first half, the 15,000+ fans in attendance watched the Wildcats cruise past the Golden Eagles winning 73-56.
Sunday’s blowout win proved to be critical for the Wildcats who are now a full game ahead of #9 Creighton in the Big East after the BlueJays loss to Xavier on Saturday. It also had great meaning for a basketball program that has continued to out-perform the experts predictions since the beginning of the 2013-2014 season.
The Wildcat’s 26th win marks the most in school history during the regular season. Sunday’s victory over Marquette also signifies the Wildcats 14th Big East win this season. Since becoming members of the Big East conference in 1981, it is the fourth time Villanova has reached the 14-win mark. This is the first time they’ve done so since the 2005-06 season where the team reached the NCAA Elite Eight before falling to the eventual national champions Florida.
There are multiple aspects of this year’s team that make them stand apart from teams in years past.
1. The last season Jay Wright’s squad recorded 14 wins, they were #4 in major preseason polls including USA Today and Associated Press. This year’s team (currently ranked 8th by AP and 9th by USA Today) was unranked before the season got underway.
2. They are the only team in the past 9 years to have 4 different players averaging double figures in points per game. (James Bell, 15.7 ppg) (JayVaughn Pinkston 14.5 ppg) (Darrun Hilliard 13.6 ppg) (Ryan Arcidiacono 10.0 ppg)
3. As a team, the Wildcats are shooting a stellar 46% from the field. A number that has not been reached since Jay Wright’s first season as head coach in 2001.
Aside from Sunday’s historic mark, Wildcat junior Darrun Hilliard stole the spotlight scoring his career high in points. Coincidental to the team’s record setting wins in the regular season, Hilliard’s outstanding performance capped off at 26 points. Hilliard’s 18 first half points picked up for the missed presence of James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono who were both plagued by foul trouble early on.
The absence of the team’s top performers displayed the depth on the Wildcats roster and their ability to take over when needed.
Coach Wright said after the game, “We are working to have 9 guys available at all times. [When] Daryl Reynolds is available he makes that number 10. We have two forward spots so its hard to play five forwards, but Reynolds is ready to give us minutes too.”
While shooting a stellar 12-for-29 from 3-point range, the Villanova defense did a superb job denying any long ball opportunities by the Golden Eagles. Marquette went on to shoot a measly 4-for-15 (26%) from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats next face a dangerous Xavier(20-9, 10-6) team on Thursday. The last time Nova faced the Musketeers the Wildcats won 81-58 in an absolute massacre. However Xavier’s 75-69 victory over #9 Creighton makes Thursday’s matchup a game they really need to be ready for. For more information as to why the Wildcats have to be on their toes come March 6th, take a look at this.