‘Cats blowout Blue Jays, rebound from loss to Hoyas

Pat Ralph

Behind an outstanding performance from senior guard Darrun Hilliard, the No. 4 Wildcats bounced back after their blowout loss at Georgetown with a strong 71-50 win over the Creighton Bluejays at the Pavilion on Sunday night. 

After struggling in the last few games, Hilliard led the way for the ’Cats with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including six 3-pointers. 

Hilliard, the team’s leading scorer, was just one piece of the Wildcats’ strong performance on the offensive end against Creighton. Junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono also finished in double-figures with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, as well as leading the Wildcats in assists with three. 

While big fella Daniel Ochefu only scored seven points in the contest, his presence was felt all night as he led the Wildcats with eight rebounds and three steals. 

Overall, the ’Cats shot nearly 45 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point land in the contest. 

While the offense had a strong performance after struggling against Georgetown, the defense was what made the difference in the game. 

Villanova’s athletic and aggressive defense forced Creighton into 19 turnovers, while the Wildcats only committed five. 

Villanova outscored Creighton off turnovers, 21-2. Being able to take care of the basketball and force opponents into turnovers will be key for Villanova going forward this season.

“Tonight was a really good defensive effort for us,” Head Coach Jay Wright said after the game. “We have been slipping a little bit defensively, nothing major but just getting a little loose and not paying attention to detail. The early defensive stop in this game was probably one of our best yet this season. We have our leaders, our captains, we talked to them and they took care of it.”

Along with forcing Creighton into turnovers, the Wildcats’ defense kept the Bluejays out of flight all night. Creighton’s offense shot 37 percent from the field and 19 percent from beyond the arc in the game, a complete change from the team the Bluejays fielded last season. 

Last year, Creighton’s veteran, sharp-shooting offense could spread the floor like no other and give opposing defenses nightmares on how to guard it. This year’s younger team has struggled to make shots all season. 

Junior guard James Milliken led the Bluejays in scoring and rebounds with 13 points and six boards, while senior guard Devin Brooks led Creighton in assists with three on the night. 

The Wildcats’ defense did a great job at holding Creighton’s leading scorer and best player, senior guard Austin Chatman, to only nine points, on 3-of-14 shooting and 1-of-7 from downtown. 

Chatman is the lone returning starter from last year’s Creighton team which finished second in the Big East. 

The one area where Villanova was dominated by Creighton was on the glass, where the Bluejays owned a 40-27 rebounding advantage. As a result, Creighton outscored Villanova, 15-1, in second chance points. 

This is a facet of the game the ’Cats must improve upon. Being able to control the glass and get second chance points against opponents is crucial to winning the Big East and making a deep run in March.

Sunday night’s win was the first for the Wildcats over the Bluejays since Creighton joined the Big East last season. In both games last season, the Wildcats’ defense was lit up in blowout defeats by All-American Doug McDermott and Creighton’s high-octane shooting attack from 3-point land. 

“I don’t think our guys were thinking about last year,“ Wright stated afterwards.  “I wanted them to be thinking about our sloppiness defensively and trying to get back to the way we play defensively, regardless of who we play.”

“We know what happened last year but it wasn’t in our mind”, Arcidiacono added in the postgame press conference. “We were just trying to get back to playing the way we were before by being tough defensively and starting everything there. That’s what we did tonight.”

The ’Cats and Blue Jays will get back together for a second meeting this season in Omaha on March 3, the final road game of the regular season for Villanova. 

The win improved the Wildcats to 18-2 overall and 5-2 in Big East play, while the loss dropped the Bluejays to 9-12 overall and  a putrid 0-8 in their conference play. 

Next up for Villanova is a road contest against the DePaul Blue Demons at 2:00 p.m. this upcoming Saturday. 

In their first matchup this season, the Wildcats dominated DePaul 81-64 at the Pavilion back on Jan. 10.