Wildcats bounce back with win over Creighton

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 three-pointers on the night.

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, in addition to his leading the Wildcats in assists with three of the night. While big man Daniel Ochefu only poured in 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 three-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 in the game, while only committing five of their own. It led to 21 points off turnovers for the Wildcats in the game compared to Creighton scoring only two points off of turnovers. Being able to take care of the basketball and force opponents into turnovers will be a key for Villanova going forward this season.

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 the Bluejays. As for this year’s much younger Bluejays team, Creighton 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 keeping 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 over the Wildcats. As a result, Creighton outscored Villanova 15-1 in second chance points. This is a facet of the game the ’Cats must improve as the month of February looms ahead for Villanova. 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 three-point land. The ’Cats and ’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 0-8 in the conference. Next up for Villanova is a road contest against the DePaul Blue Demons at 2 p.m. this upcoming Saturday. In their first matchup this season, the Wildcats dominated DePaul 81-64 at the Pavilion back on Jan. 10.