Villanova knew it would get another chance in the opportunity-rich Big East Conference.
‘Nova just wanted to make sure it took advantage of its latest test against a top-five opponent.
The Wildcats did just that on Wednesday night. Again.
Villanova grinded out a 67-57 victory over fifth-ranked Georgetown in the Wildcats’ regular-season finale at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
Villanova (19-12, 10-8 Big East) already had wins this year at the Wells Fargo Center over then-No. 5 Louisville on Jan. 22 and then-No. 3 Syracuse four days later.
That overall body of work should be enough to get the Wildcats into the NCAA tournament, right?
“I would think so,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I think everybody’s got a unique résumé. I think having 10 wins in this league with the wins that we have, the quality of wins against high-caliber teams, [should be enough]. I think some of our previous bad losses like against Providence -- they list them as bad losses -- they’re not really bad losses. Providence could win 10 games in this league.
“I just think given where everything is right now, I think we would be, but we also know we’re close enough that things could happen, too. I think we’re in a good spot right now. I’m going to always answer questions about that, but we’re not going to worry about that. We’re just going to keep getting better, next game. I just feel good about how we’re playing right now.”
Wright had to be pleased with Villanova’s effort on Wednesday. The ‘Cats shook off a pair of consecutive losses to smother Georgetown (23-5, 13-4 Big East) and snap the Hoyas’ 11-game winning streak.
“Great game, man. Great win for us,” Wright said. “I’m just really proud, not just proud but I’m impressed with our guys the last couple games, how well they’ve played. To come away with losses having played really well, most young people would feel sorry for themselves. These guys just come to work every day. We had two hard practices with no day off.
“Our guys came in and really played great defense. That Georgetown team probably executes offensively better than anybody in the country and our guys played great defense.”
Villanova battled back from an early 7-0 hole to seize control in the first half and take a four-point advantage into intermission, mainly with that stingy defense.
‘Nova held red-hot Georgetown forward, Otto Porter Jr., to 17 points on 6-for-16 shooting. The Wildcats also forced the Hoyas into 12 turnovers in the first frame and 23 for the game.
“You look at the turnovers. We had 23. They had 17,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “There was a stretch there where we were just giving it back and forth to each other. Out of all the numbers on the stat sheet, that jumped out at me the most. Our turnovers hurt us.”
The ‘Cats made sure the Hoyas paid for each one of those mistakes. Villanova scored 24 points off those 23 Georgetown turnovers.
“We just went out there and focused on defense. Our defense turned into our offense, so that helped us a lot,” said JayVaughn Pinkston, who led Villanova with 20 points. “Getting steals and deflections, that really got it started.”
When the Wildcats did get their hands on the ball, they continually drove to the basket, which got several Georgetown players in foul trouble and routinely placed the ‘Cats at the free throw line. Villanova connected on 30 of 42 shots from the charity striped compared to just 4 of 8 for Georgetown.
“Have I ever been a part of a game like that? I can not remember,” Thompson said of the free-throw disparity. “I’ll keep my issues to myself.”
Still, the Hoyas were within three points with just under six minutes remaining in the game.
That is until Darrun Hilliard drained his lone three of the game in transition with 5:43 left on the clock and Ryan Arcidiacono followed with a pair of free throws to give Villanova enough cushion to hold on for the victory.
“I know I got confidence from my teammates and from my coaches, so it was no second-guessing in shooting that three,” Hilliard said. “I do it every day in practice. I know they got all the confidence in me in the world. All I had to do was make the shot.”
Villanova will now wait until its opponent is determined for next week’s Big East tournament. With all of the proposed conference realignment plans underway, the Wildcats will make sure to savor one of their last wins as the league is currently constructed.
“I love this conference. I don’t want it to end,” Wright said. “I know it has to. I really don’t want it to end. I want to enjoy every minute of it. I’ve tried to do that.
“When you win 10 games in this league, I think the NCAA tournament number is 94 percent of the teams make it but forget that. Winning 10 games in this league is big time.”
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