Jay Wright’s No. 6 ranked Villanova team picked up a sweet victory in Indianapolis on Valentine’s Day against the No. 19 Butler Bulldogs. Darrun Hilliard’s clutch 3-pointer from the wing with 1.5 seconds to play lifted the Wildcats to a 68-65 win in front of a raucous Butler crowd. Hilliard scored a career-high 31 points on Saturday night, and in his senior year is quickly becoming Villanova’s superstar and go-to guy. The crafty southpaw is magnificent with his left hand, yet is equally impressive with his right.
At home on Monday night at The Pavilion in Philadelphia, Nova was looking to avenge their 66-61 overtime loss versus Seton Hall in New Jersey on January 3. The loss was one of only two losses on the season for the Wildcats. With a 80-54 pounding of the Pirates (15-11, 5-9), Villanova captured their best 26-game start in school history (24-2, 11-2). The victory also happens to be the largest Big East Conference win of Nova’s extraordinary season.
In a game that started with big runs from both teams, Villanova began the contest on a 7-0 run and surged to a 14-4 lead. Then, Seton Hall went on its own 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 14-13. Well, Nova’s response was a 12-0 burst that was highlighted by Hilliard’s 4-point play, drilling a 3-pointer and drawing a Seton Hall foul. Unselfish and solid all-around play was the key for Nova, and their superior defense did not disappoint, suffocating the Pirates for a majority of the night.
Wildcats’ big man, Daniel Ochefu, was fundamentally sound throughout the contest, giving Nova an extra dimension both offensively and defensively. Size has been an issue for Villanova in previous NCAA tournaments, but Ochefu will be the answer come March.
Villanova’s relentless effort has been the biggest factor in their success this season, and there certainly was not a shortage of effort in Philly on Monday night. With Hilliard finishing with 18 points on the evening, the Wildcats managed to have five players in double-figures — that statistic can only be correlated to fantastic team play. Team oriented basketball has always been and always will be the main ingredient to Wright’s success as head coach at Villanova.
Josh Hart (4 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Dylan Ennis were huge contributors in Nova’s resounding win, and Kris Jenkins was solid with 6 points off the bench.
In Bill Raftery’s postgame interviews, Coach Wright said that he saw, “Good team defense.” However, as coaches will always point out their team’s flaws, Wright suggested that, “we need to rebound better.”
Hilliard told Raftery that the team is a strong unit because, “we love each other off the court; we love each other like brothers.” Additionally, Hilliard noted that the team needs to get better defensively. It sounds like he is listening and learning from his great coach.
*Seton Hall’s Sterling Gibbs was ejected from the game in the second half for striking Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono in the face with his forearm.
*Section Photo credit to Michael Leff, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Matt Slocum, Associated Press