Villanova must stay focused to stay in hunt for NCAA bid

An emotional Mouphtaou Yarou moves toward the student body after the end of the game on Saturday, February 23, 2013 at the Pavilion. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Villanova continued its winning ways in the Big East on Saturday, and now is one victory away from what has been a magic number through the years for conference teams under consideration for the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats’ 60-56 victory over Marquette at the Pavilion was their third straight and improved their Big East record to 9-6 with three games remaining.

In the history of the Big East, counting the current roster of 15 schools, 124 of the 130 teams that have earned 10 conference wins have made it to the NCAA tournament. That’s a percentage of 94.6. Of the six teams that didn’t make it, Villanova was burned twice – in 1992 and 1994.

The current Wildcats (18-10, 9-6 Big East) can capture win No. 10 on Monday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., against Seton Hall (13-15, 2-13), a team that has been hampered by injuries.

But Villanova coach Jay Wright is taking absolutely nothing for granted, especially from people who think playing the Pirates will be an automatic W.

“We say it all the time: the next game is a big game because we’re in it,” he said. “That’s what we tell our guys. To us it’s a big game. We try not to focus on what people on the outside … how they label a game. To us the next game is a big one.

“We try to teach these guys this. We know we can play well and still lose on the road. (Seton Hall) has been in every game. As long as we’re playing well and we keep getting better, we’ll be OK, we’ll win our share of games.”

Wright hopes the Wildcats can continue to show the kind of defensive effort they’ve exhibited recently. On Saturday, although the Golden Eagles shot 60 percent in the second half, they committed 19 turnovers in the game, and Villanova held a 17-2 advantage in points off turnovers.

The Wildcats did an effective job on 6-foot-4 guard Vander Blue, who came into the game averaging a team-high 16.4 points in Big East games. With Darrun Hilliard on him most of the time, Blue shot just two of eight from the field and scored seven points.

Hilliard also carried the Cats offensively, scoring a game-high 22 points.

“I was trying to be aggressive,” he said. “If I had the shot, I took it. I had a clear mind. I was just trying to help my team out in any way I can. I say this every time – I try to come into the game playing defense. If I play defense and do the little things, I’m fine with anything.”

Nova Notes. Maurice Sutton, who with Mouphtaou Yarou was honored prior to the Senior Day game, started for the first time since Jan. 2 but played only three minutes. … The Pavilion’s student section was full and that led to a lively environment at the game, which Marquette coach Buzz Williams liked. “I think it’s a great place to play,” Williams said. “It’s hard on the opponent. But when I think about college basketball and the purity of the game, this is what I think of. I love the students’ passion. I didn’t see a seat in the student section or in the arena. I thought it was great.”

--Joe Juliano