VILLANOVA, Pa. — Shortly after Saturday night’s 60-56 victory over No. 17 Marquette, Villanova’s Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton stood on the scorer’s table and saluted the sold-out crowd at the Pavilion.
Villanova’s two seniors are getting used to wild celebrations this season.
For the third time in the past month, the unranked Wildcats upended a nationally ranked team for a crucial conference victory. After being picked to finish 12th in the preseason Big East poll, the Wildcats (18-10, 9-6 Big East) are slowly and surprisingly inching closer to an NCAA tournament berth.
“You want them to play in significant, big-time games and leave an imprint on the program,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “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.”
On Villanova’s senior night, Yarou was honored before the game with a stirring video tribute. The 6-foot-10 center finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in his final game at the Pavilion, punctuating the hard-fought victory with a slam with 15 seconds remaining.
“I emptied my mind because I don’t want to get too emotional,” Yarou said. “When I get back to my room, I’ll think about it.”
Sophomore Darrun Hilliard, who scored 11 of his 22 points during a 7-minute stretch in the second half that helped the Wildcats turn a three-point lead into a comfortable 54-43 advantage with 3:30 left.
For Wright, however, the most important thing Hilliard did was slow down Marquette’s talented guards. Only senior Junior Cadougan scored in double figures for the Golden Eagles (19-7, 10-4) with 12 points. Davante Gardner, Marquette’s second-leading scorer, was held to two points on 1-for-4 shooting.
“I know he had 22 and we probably don’t win without him,” Wright said of Hilliard. “But we’re not in the game unless he defended the way he defended.”
Before Villanova opened up the game in the second half, both teams really struggled offensively, combining for more turnovers (15) than field goals (13).
Knowing Marquette’s style of play, that didn’t surprise Wright in the slightest and he prepared his team for a similar second half.
“It’s a great Big East grind,” Wright said. “And they make you play that way.”
Marquette outrebounded Villanova 37-24, but committed 19 turnovers and allowed the Wildcats to shoot nearly 60 percent from the field in the second half.
Williams came down hard on his team’s effort, especially pointing a finger at Gardner, who played only 11 minutes because the Marquette coach bluntly noted that “he played really bad.”
“We were not 10-3 (in the Big East) because we did something unique offensively or defensively,” Williams said. “We weren’t 10-3 because we’re the most-talented or best-coached. We were in a position to be in a position because of how hard we played. And we did not play hard enough today.”