In the Arena: Wildcats Polish Off Golden Eagles

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Villanova was head and shoulders above Marquette for an easy victory Wednesday night.

Villanova was head and shoulders above Marquette for an easy victory Wednesday night.

Villanova 70, Marquette 52 – Box Score

If Villanova fans were hoping for a sneak peak at the team’s end of the year highlight reel, they weren’t likely to find any of it within Wednesday night’s game against Marquette. The Wildcats started off the contest about as poorly as a team can, turning the ball over on their first three possessions and hitting just 1 of their first 10 shots from the field.

As Coach Wright said after the game, “At one point, I think they were up 6-4, I was thinking, man we’re lucky right now, this could be like 18-4.”

Fortunately for Jay Wright’s squad, they found themselves facing one of the few teams in the Big East where a team can get away with such a sluggish start.

In his first season as head coach at Marquette, former Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski has the program heading in the right direction, but he’s unlikely to see the dividends until next season. Wojo’s latest recruiting class includes the Golden Eagles’ first McDonald’s All-American recruit in over 30 years, Henry Ellenson. Ellenson will join his brother Wally on the court next season, who transferred from Minnesota. Still, as far as this season goes, things are pretty bleak in Milwaukee, but the Wildcats still needed to go out and take care of business.

Coach Wright opined in the post-game press conference, “A game like this, when young players see 2-7…they haven’t been in it long enough to know that a good scrappy team like that can come in here and get you.”

Villanova finally found its footing midway through the first half, breaking the game open with a 12-0 run, aided by 7 points from Darrun Hilliard (12 points on the game). The defensive effort was outstanding all evening for the Wildcats, but especially during that stretch as Marquette missed 11 straight field goals. Remarkably, Villanova played that tremendous defense while staying completely clean, as they went the first 18 minutes of the game without committing so much as a single foul.

It wasn’t a pretty opening half offensively for the Cats, who shot just 32.4% from the field before heading into the locker room. However, what all those missed shots meant was plenty of offensive rebound opportunities, of which, to their credit, the Wildcats took full advantage. Villanova battled for 14 offensive rebounds in the first half, affording them a 14-3 advantage in 2nd chance points which was the biggest factor in their 17-point halftime lead.

Coming out for the last 20 minutes, the Wildcats finally found their shooting stroke and extended their lead to as much as 24 points, led by point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Arch matched his own season-high with a game-high 18 points, hitting 4-7 from three on the night. Now 12-21 from behind the arc over his last 4 games, Arcidiacono has reemerged as an offensive force for the team in addition to providing his always reassuring ball-handling abilities in directing the offense.

The junior discussed the team’s mindset, even as things weren’t going their way offensively early on: “With this team, we’ve all been through it before so we’re not afraid of anything. We’re not afraid of missing shots, anything like that. We just want to come out harder than the other team and we know eventually we’ll start making shots if we keep defending.”

The Wildcats will next take on Georgetown this weekend, again at the Wells Fargo Center. Although they now sport a three-game winning streak, Villanova will need to bring a much better effort than they had initially against Marquette. That sort of slow start was exactly what led to their worst loss of the season down in the nation’s capital just two weeks ago. We’ll see if Wright’s squad has learned a thing or two in the interim and can stay atop the heap in the Big East.

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