Hilliard leads No. 6 Villanova past Georgetown
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Villanova coach Jay Wright believed his Wildcats had a chance to be good this season, thanks to the players’ chemistry. He just didn’t expect them to be this good.
Darrun Hilliard scored 19 points to lead No. 6 Villanova to a dominating 77-59 victory over Georgetown on Saturday, preserving the Wildcats’ hopes of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
JayVaughn Pinkston added 13 points, and James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono had 11 apiece for the Wildcats (28-3, 16-2), who won their sixth straight game while tying the 2005-06 team for second-most wins in program history. Villanova’s 16 Big East wins are the most in school history.
“I don’t try to predict our record but if someone forced me to, I never would’ve predicted 28-3,” Wright said.
Wright said the team’s togetherness, which has been evident since preseason workouts in the summer, is a key to the Wildcats’ success.
“Most of your teams that are good get along, but this is a really unique group,” Wright said. “I think they are all really similar, and they do look out for each other. It’s a pleasure to coach guys who love to play. They love to play together. It was really fun to be a part of that.”
Said Hilliard, “We just like each other, man. We don’t have nothing against each other. We’re really like brothers. We like talking with each other and enjoy being around each other, even off the court.”
The Wildcats’ team-first mentality showed against the Hoyas, as five players scored in double-figures. Bell entered Saturday averaging a team-best 15 points per game, which is unusually low for a team so highly regarded.
“At the offensive end, they’re a very, very unselfish team,” Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. “They drive, kick it to the person and that person can make a shot. They have several players on their team who would be the point person, the star on other teams. They have different players who can step up. I think their unselfishness is a key.”
The 18-point win marked the largest margin of victory for Villanova in a Big East game between the teams.
Markel Starks scored 20 points for the Hoyas (17-13, 8-10), who are in jeopardy of failing to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera added 14 points and Aaron Bowen had 13 for Georgetown.
Georgetown needs a run in the Big East tournament to secure a fifth straight NCAA bid. The Hoyas, who are the No. 7 seed, open the tournament Wednesday night.
“We’ll put all of our energy into getting ready for that first game,” Thompson III said. “We’ll have to play better than we did today, significantly better.”
Villanova, meantime, is in position for a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament with a good run in the conference tournament. The Wildcats, who were helped by Kansas’ loss on Saturday, already have secured the Big East regular-season title and the top seed in the conference tournament. Villanova opens play in the Big East tournament Thursday.
The Wildcats likely will field many questions about NCAA tournament seeding in New York, site of the Big East tournament, but Wright said the talk won’t affect his players.
“I don’t think there’s that much of a difference with a one and a two (seed),” Wright said. “Being considered up there is great, but it’s no concern for us. The Big East tournament will be fun.”
Bell added: “Our focus is always on the next game, the next day and just getting better period. The next day is just the next challenge. The next day is another chance to get better and that’s what we have to deal with.”
Villanova, which led 42-29 at halftime, upped its advantage to 20 points when Arcidiacono made two 3-pointers on consecutive Villanova possessions to give the Wildcats a 55-35 lead with 13:02 remaining.
The Hoyas never got it under double-digits the rest of the way.
The Wildcats took control with a strong first half.
Bell’s four-point play with 49.8 seconds left in the half gave Villanova its largest lead of the period, 42-27. Bell had 11 points in the half for the Wildcats, who shot 52 percent from the field and 57 percent from the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
Bowen had nine points before the break to pace Georgetown, which battled foul trouble in the first half. Starks, who entered averaging a team-best 17 points per game, picked up his third foul with 6:40 to play before intermission. Jabril Trawick also had three fouls before the break.
There were some hard fouls in this one that was reminiscent of the old Big East when these teams developed a fierce rivalry that has remained with the incarnation of the new basketball-only Big East this season.
Smith-Rivera suffered an apparent head injury 43 seconds into the second half and walked groggily to the bench before returning minutes later. Villanova’s Dylan Ennis limped off after going down hard with just over seven minutes to play. Neither team allowed the other easy layups in a game that featured 46 fouls.
NOTES: It was the 73rd meeting between the teams, and the Hoyas now lead the series 42-31. ... The Wildcats improved to 39-33 all-time at the Wells Fargo Center, Villanova’s off-campus home venue. ... Wildcats recruits Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges, who both signed National Letters of Intent with the school for next season, were in attendance. ... Villanova’s previous largest Big East margin against the Hoyas was a 75-60 win on Feb. 5, 2004. The Wildcats’ largest-ever margin was 28 points — 73-45 — on Feb. 11, 1950.