The Villanova Wildcats were picked to finish 12th in the Big East before the 2012-13 season began. Coming off a 13-win season and the loss of their top scorer, Maalik Wayns, who left after his Junior year for the NBA, the prediction seemed reasonable. Despite Head Coach Jay Wright adding two top 100 Freshman in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, it looked as though the Wildcats were entering a rebuilding phase.
Following their third win against a ranked opponent this year, however, a 60-56 victory over 17th-ranked Marquette on Saturday night, Villanova has exceeded expectations and look to be on their way to the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in the last ten years. Head Coach Jay Wright has his young group of student-athletes playing hard, together and confidently, and has unquestionably placed himself into consideration for Big East Coach of the Year.
It was Senior Day at Villanova on Saturday and the team’s two fourth-year veterans, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton, were honored for their contributions to the program prior to the game. The Marquette Golden Eagles (19-7 overall, 10-4 Big East) came into the Pavilion as one of the top offensive teams in the country, shooting close to 47 percent as a team, and were atop the Big East standings. The Wildcats (18-10, 9-6) were coming off a necessary win at home Monday night against Rutgers, and knew that in order to beat the Golden Eagles, they’d have to match their intensity and continue their tremendous defense they’ve exhibited over the past two months.
“Marquette beats a lot of teams just because they compete harder and execute better,” Wright said. “We said that to beat that team, we’ve got to play hard. That’s what makes us really proud of the effort.”
It wasn’t a pretty game early on, as both teams shot less than 30 percent from the field and combined for 15 turnovers as the game sputtered to halftime knotted at 22. The Golden Eagles clobbered the Wildcats on the boards, 37-24, and shot 60 percent from the field in the second half, but it was turnovers that told the story. The Wildcats had been one of the most turnover-prone teams in the country averaging 16 a game, however, over their last two contests combined, they’ve committed 17 total, just one of many areas that the team has improved upon. They forced Marquette into 19 giveaways on Saturday night, and outscored the Eagles 17-2 in points off turnovers.
Sophomore Darrun Hilliard led the way for Villanova scoring 14 points in the second half and 22 points overall, along with 3 steals, 2 assists and 2 rebounds. He scored 11 points during a 7-minute stretch in the second half that enabled the Wildcats to turn a three-point lead into a more comfortable 54-43 lead with 3:30 left in the game. He finished 7 of 10 from the field and drained 3 of ‘Nova’s 4 three-point baskets. Ryan Arcidiacono, who came into the night averaging 14 points and 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc over his last five outings, shot just 1-of-6 from three, but still managed to accumulate 11 points, 3 assists and no turnovers for the second straight game, as he continues his development as a more intelligent point guard.
“Defensively, [Hilliard] has been outstanding guarding a lot of great guards, same with Ryan [Arcidiacono] and Tony Chennault. Vander Blue, Darrun was guarding him and he did an amazing, amazing job. I know he had 22, but you don’t win a game like that unless he’s defending the way he was defending,” Wright said.
“Arch is like having another upperclassman out there, JayVaughn is still a little up and down, but that’s what Arch brings to our team. He’s like having another Senior out there.”
On a night dedicated to him and Sutton, Mouphtaou Yarou added 10 points and 7 rebounds, and was instrumental in holding Marquette’s leading scorer, Davante Gardner, to just 2 points. Once the final buzzer sounded, he made his way over to his coach and the two embraced one another in a bear hug. He and Sutton then climbed on top of the scorer’s table to join the Villanova student section in singing their fight song, as both players received a loud and sustained standing ovation.
“My day was great,” Yarou said. ”I was thinking about the team. After the game I was thinking about my time here. I’ve enjoyed the time. It’s always about the team and it’s always about the next game.”
“You want them to play in significant, big-time games and leave an imprint on the program,” Wright added. “So when you see those two stand up there and you see how much the students love them, that’s your dream come true as a coach.”
The Wildcats travel to South Orange, New Jersey next to square off with the struggling Seton Hall Pirates (13-15 overall, 2-13 Big East) on Monday, February 25th. With Pittsburgh and Georgetown being the final two games on the schedule after Seton Hall, the Wildcats cannot get caught looking past the Pirates. Despite their three wins over ranked opponents and 18 wins in all, a loss to Seton Hall could once again put their NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy.
“I’ve said all the way, ‘Let’s see how good we can be,’” Wright said. “Now it’s turned the other way and it’s ‘Let’s see if we can keep getting better.’ I’ve always said, ‘Let’s be the best team we can be by the end of the year.’ And I think this team still has a chance to be a lot better.”
They’re proving a lot of people wrong along the way.Tags: College Basketball, Daniel Ochefu, Maurice Sutton, Mouphtaou Yarou, NCAA, Ryan Arcidiacono, win