With a Big East home victory already secured, No. 10 Villanova will have its first road test in conference play when it travels to Milwaukee to face Marquette on Saturday.
One of two ranked teams in the Big East, along with No. 11 Butler, Villanova opened its conference schedule Monday with a 68-62 victory over Xavier that was heavy on defense and included plenty of Collin Gillespie.
Gillespie topped the Wildcats (10-2, 1-0 Big East) with 24 points and helped lead the charge on the other end where Villanova’s perimeter defending was key.
Despite scoring under 70 points for just the third time all season, the Wildcats won by holding the Musketeers to 1 of 11 from 3-point range. The one Xavier made basket from distance came in with 46 seconds remaining and the game essentially in hand.
It wasn’t necessarily the victory that Villanova head coach Jay Wright appreciated most, but rather the knowledge gained while getting there. Of course, getting conference play off to a positive start wasn’t a bad idea either.
“All these games for us are important,” Wright said afterward. “We still have a lot to learn. You can learn from winning if you’re honest with yourself. We could have lost this one and there would have been a lot of lessons from first-half turnovers, playing unintelligently when we got a lead, some breakdowns on offense.
“We’ve got to keep learning from that and getting better. Everybody in this league is going to keep getting better.”
Gillespie, who has averaged a team-high 15.0 points per game, is one of five Wildcats players scoring in double figures. Saddiq Bey is next at 14.7 points followed by Justin Moore at 12.3. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (11.3) and Jermaine Samuels (10.3) also are in the double-digits group.
Villanova not only enters on a six-game winning streak, one of those was a 56-55 statement victory Dec. 21 against Kansas. Villanova held the then-No. 1 ranked team in the nation to 23.1 percent shooting from 3-point range and Samuels hit a decisive 3-pointer with 20.5 seconds remaining.
Marquette (10-3, 0-1) is less balanced than Villanova, relying heavily on All-America guard Markus Howard to the tune of 25.6 points per game.
But Howard was held to 18 points Wednesday as the Golden Eagles fell 92-75 in their Big East opener at Creighton. Marquette’s five-game winning streak came to an end.
Howard, who has scored as many as 51 points in a game this season on Nov. 29 against Southern California, was 6 of 16 from the field and 2 of 7 from 3-point range. The Golden Eagles shot just 42 percent (29 of 69) as a team, while Creighton shot 50 percent (33 of 66) in the victory.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “I guarantee you, Villanova is not feeling sorry for us. We’ve got to evaluate, we’ve got to regroup, we’ve got to look at areas to get better. We have to get ready for a top 10 team to come into (Milwaukee) on Saturday afternoon.”
–Field Level Media