Villanova didn’t yet know it controlled its own Big East destiny heading into Sunday’s date with conference rival Marquette.
And not a single player realized the conference was theirs to lose until they’d finished disposing of pre-season favorite Marquette 73-56 at the Wells Fargo Center yesterday to solidify their hold on the top spot.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know,’’ confessed junior guard Darrun Hilliard.
Hilliard exploded for a career-high 26 points before being informed that Creighton’s 75-69 loss at Xavier had put Villanova in the Big East’s driver’s seat at 14-2.
“I just heard Coach (Jay Wright) now say we were in first place,” he said. “That’s pretty cool. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.’’
That’s just the way Wright wants his players to think, even though they’re just a win at Xavier, followed by beating longtime rival Georgetown back here next Saturday, from being Big East regular season champs for the first time in decades.
“It doesn’t have any impact on us,’’ said Wright, who was most pleased the way Hilliard and his bench built a 36-25 halftime lead despite having starters James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono play just 11 minutes between them due to foul trouble and go scoreless. “It really doesn’t.” We will not even address it. We’ll just concentrate on our next game, Xavier. It’s the only thing we can control. We had no control being in first place. Creighton beat us twice. They had it. We only got it because of what happened in their game.’’
Perhaps. But the No. 8 ranked Wildcats made sure to take care of business against a 17-12 Golden Eagles’ club that took them to overtime January 25.
With Hilliard providing the offensive spark early — scoring 18 in the first half — then freshman Josh Hart (13) and JayVaughn Pinkston (11) taking over after intermission, Villanova was able to win going away.
By the time the rankings come out tomorrow they could conceivably be in the Top 5, since Kansas, Louisville and Syracuse — all ranked ahead of them — lost this weekend.
Of course, Wright & Co. won’t even worry about that, either. The only thing on their minds will be Xavier.
“I watched them yesterday and they’re playing great,’’ said Wright, who doesn’t expect a repeat of ‘Nova’s 81-58 romp over the Musketeers Feb. 3. “And that’s a tough place to play.’’
Then again, as Marquette learned yesterday and the rest of the Big East — other than Creighton — has discovered this season that it keeps getting better for the Wildcats. Villanova is a very tough team to play.