Creighton's Maurice Watson takes Villanova game in stride

Butler Creighton Basketball
Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10), a Philadelphia native and a graduate of Boys' Latin High, said facing top-ranked Villanova is "just another game."

OMAHA, Neb. - Senior point guard Maurice Watson Jr. insists that he won't get caught up in the hype in a highly anticipated battle of the unbeatens.

Besides the fact that his No. 10 Creighton team hosts defending national champion and No. 1 Villanova in a Big East battle of 13-0 teams, Watson insists he will take a business-like approach.

For him it's even harder since he is a Philadelphia product from Boys' Latin High. Watson, who scored 2,356 points in high school, is in his second year running the Creighton offense after spending his first two college seasons at Boston University. When asked if this game was extra special due to his local roots, Watson insisted it wasn't.

"It is just another game," he said before Creighton practiced Friday at CenturyLink Center, the site of Saturday's game. "I am more so worried about the team than I was last year, just breaking the ice and finally getting to play against them, the team I always wanted to play for growing up."

Actually he played well last year in two losses to the Wildcats, averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists in 29 minutes per game.

"Now I am here and I am older and more set in what I want to do and I just want to win," he said.

Watson is averaging 13.5 points and is leading the Big East in assists with 9.1.

This will be the second Big East game for both teams, and while Villanova struggled to beat DePaul by 68-65 on Wednesday, Creighton had a more convincing 89-75 win over Seton Hall, in which Watson had 21 points and 10 assists.

"I thought the Seton Hall game was his best of the year," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

Watson says he hasn't talked to too many people from Philadelphia the last few days, preferring to keep his focus on the game.

"My mom and dad handle all that," he said about communication with friends at home. "I tend not to answer much and just stay focused on this year."

McDermott says for both teams to be unbeaten at this juncture is a tremendous feat, but he says Villanova has endured an additional burden.

"To be the defending national champions and to have that target on your back for every game you play and you are going to get everybody's best shot, it's a real credit to their program," McDermott said.

McDermott has had one simple message to his team about handling the hype.

"I told them don't let the pressure become so great that you forget about the pleasure," McDermott said.

Then again, he said playing Villanova isn't the most enjoyable of tasks.

"It is as fundamentally sound of a college basketball team you will ever see and if you didn't have to play against them, you would love watching them play," McDermott said. "But when you have to prepare for them, that is a little more problematic and not as much fun."

Watson says despite all the pressure of attempting to knock off the national champs, it has to be remembered that this is the just the second of 18 Big East games.

"It's early, but it's a test to see how much fight you have early," Watson said.

Based on this season, there should be plenty of fight in both teams in a New Year's Eve game that could have a March-like feel to it.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard