Marquette-Villanova Preview

Locked in a tight battle for the Big East title, Villanova next faces a Marquette team that nearly knocked off the Wildcats in the schools’ first meeting of the season.

A second-half surge allowed the Golden Eagles to force overtime before Villanova prevailed, and the No. 8 Wildcats certainly know what they’re up against as they go for their fourth straight victory when they host Marquette on Sunday.

Then ranked fourth, Villanova was outscored 46-39 in the second half Jan. 25 in Milwaukee, but took control and outscored the Golden Eagles 17-8 in the extra period. Coach Jay Wright expects another tough test in this matchup.

"When you talk about Marquette you talk about toughness and aggressiveness. They are really experienced," he said. "They know what they have to do at this time of the year. Our guys’ challenge every night is to be hungrier than a real hungry team. That’s our challenge."

Battling Creighton for the conference lead, the Wildcats (25-3, 13-2) have won three in a row since being routed by the Bluejays on Feb. 16. Villanova beat Butler 67-48 on Wednesday after winning its previous two by three points each time, allowing it to match the school record for regular-season victories.

The Wildcats, though, needed almost the first 10 minutes of the game to score 10 points, missed eight of their first nine 3-point attempts and didn’t have a player reach double digits in scoring until midway through the second half.

Their defense was hard to criticize, however, as they limited the Bulldogs to 30.6 percent shooting and have given up 62 or fewer points in five of the past seven games.

”This is a really good group to coach,” Wright said. ”It’s been a pleasure all year. But it can’t let that prevent us from driving them and them driving themselves to get better.”

Guards James Bell, Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard II totaled just 31 points while going 11 for 29 from the field against Butler, but that trio scored 70 points – 12 in overtime – during the first meeting with Marquette.

Though he leads the team with 15.7 points per game, Bell has totaled 20 in the past two contests while going 6 of 19 from the floor. He’s made 33.3 percent of his shots during the winning streak after hitting 46.0 in the first 25 games.

Marquette (17-11, 9-6) is in need of a big win as it looks to improve its NCAA tournament hopes. The Golden Eagles have won five of six, though they’re 0-4 against ranked opponents this season.

Marquette knocked off Georgetown 75-73 on Thursday, as power forward Davante Gardner scored 26 points and Jake Thomas had a season-high 22 while going 6 of 9 from 3-point range.

"We have fought and scrapped and worked just to be in this position,” coach Buzz Williams said. ”Whatever you want to say, those guys could have shut it down. They never have. To be 9-6 and tied for third (in the conference), that speaks to their character."

Marquette is 1-10 on the road against top-10 foes since Williams took over prior to the 2008-09 season. He’s 4-7 against the Wildcats, with two of the wins coming when Villanova was ranked.

"They’re hot, they’re a tough team and they are playing for an NCAA (tournament) bid," Wright said. "Gardner is tough inside, (Todd) Mayo is an experienced scorer and (Jamil) Wilson is a very tough player."

Villanova last had more than 25 wins in 2008-09, when it piled up a school-record 30 and reached the Final Four.