PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jay Wright couldn’t escape the buzz at his radio show of a potential NCAA tournament bid for Villanova.
No, not from anxious Wildcats fans and callers.
From the TV stuck on a sports channel in the middle of his broadcast.
“It came up on the screen that we were the last four in,” said Wright, Villanova’s coach. “I was like, ‘We’re in?’ You see it all the time.”
Wright could see it for real when the bracket is announced next week. Going 3 for 3 at the Wells Fargo Center against top-five teams sure has bolstered the Wildcats’ credentials.
JayVaughn Pinkston scored 20 points to help Villanova beat a top-five team for the third time this season, 67-57 over No. 5 Georgetown on Wednesday night.
The Wildcats (19-12, 10-8 Big East) also beat then-No. 5 Louisville and then-No. 3 Syracuse and have put themselves in solid shape for at least an NCAA tournament at-large bid. All three wins over top-five teams came at the Wells Fargo Center, the site of tournament games the first weekend.
The Wildcats may not play in March at their off-campus home, but they expect to be chasing the championship somewhere. With three top-five wins on the resume, Wright said the Wildcats should be tournament bound.
“I would think given where everything is right now, we would be,” Wright said. “We also know we’re close enough that things could happen, too.”
Villanova students stormed the court after the first two wins and security lined the baseline again Wednesday. With students on break, only a few fans made the dash. That gave the Wildcats the chance to head behind the basket and salute the ones who stuck around.
The Wildcats beat then-No. 17 Marquette to improve to 4-2 against Top 25 teams. That’s put the Wildcats in the thick of tourney talk.
“We hear it,” Pinkston said. “We try not to think about it.”
Otto Porter Jr. scored 17 points as the Hoyas (23-5, 13-4) had an 11-game winning streak snapped. The Big East leaders lost for the first time since Jan. 19, against South Florida. The Hoyas would have been guaranteed at least a share of the regular-season title with a win.
“We needed this game, also,” coach Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “We’re playing for a championship. That’s something just as important. We were desperate coming into this game, also.”
Darrun Hilliard scored 14 points, Ryan Arcidiacono had 11 and Mouphtaou Yarou grabbed 12 rebounds for the Wildcats, who finished 30 of 42 from the free throw line. Georgetown went 4 of 8 from the stripe.
The Wildcats still have the Big East tournament ahead. But they have won enough big games to start thinking about the NCAA tournament.
It’s a swift turnaround after the Wildcats finished 13-19 last season and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. The 19 losses were a season-worst for a program that started playing in 1920.
The Hoyas were playing for a No. 1 seed in the both the Big East and NCAA tournaments. But they committed a whopping 23 turnovers and never made the big shots down the stretch.
Pinkston’s 3-pointer midway through the second half pushed the lead to eight and the Wildcats held off a brief Hoyas’ run with seven straight points from the free throw line.
Hilliard shook off early foul trouble to bury a 3-pointer and make it 54-48. Arcidiacono followed with two free throws and the crowd of 13,685 went wild sensing another upset.
The Wildcats were one of the rare teams this season to crack Georgetown’s defense, one of the stingiest in the nation. The Hoyas held teams to 38 percent shooting and only Pittsburgh cracked 50 percent in a game this season. Led by Pinkston inside and James Bell outside, the Wildcats hovered around the 50 percent mark to torment the Hoyas. Plus 13 steals with 3:40 left in the game sure didn’t hurt the Wildcats.
Villanova’s defense tightened up and forced Georgetown into rushing shots with ticks still left on the shot clock.
“We were still able to get decent looks, we just weren’t able to knock them down,” Porter said.
Pinkston missed two free throws and the late meltdown so similar to ones in losses last week at Seton Hall and Pittsburgh appeared under way. Pinkston steadied himself from the line the next time down and hit two for a six-point lead. Hilliard forced a steal at midcourt, then drew Moses Ayegba’s fifth foul. He made one of two from the line and Villanova kept a comfortable lead the rest of the way.
The Wildcats are feeling good to Wright after some mediocre seasons following their 2009 Final Four appearance.
“We know that he’s just driving us,” Hilliard said. “He wants us to be great and we want to be great.”