MILWAUKEE — When another close loss would have been demoralizing, grinding out a win in overtime at Georgetown has seemed to have rejuvenated Marquette.
The Golden Eagles truly believe they have a late-season run in them. If the Georgetown win was the first step, a victory over a top-five opponent would be a giant leap. That’s the opportunity in front of Marquette when it hosts No. 4 Villanova Saturday afternoon at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
"It would start a lot of momentum," Marquette senior forward Davante Gardner said. "They are one of the top-ranked teams in the nation, so hopefully we can go out there and play harder than we did against Georgetown.
"We have to play harder than (Villanova). Let them have to come into our house and play harder than us."
Marquette is 39-2 at home over the past three seasons, having had its 27-game home winning streak snapped earlier this year against then-No. 10 Ohio State. The Golden Eagles haven’t lost a Big East game on Al McGuire Court since March 2, 2011, a run of 20 straight conference wins at home.
Villanova will be the highest ranked team to come to the Bradley Center since 2009 when Marquette lost to No. 2 Connecticut. The Golden Eagles haven’t beat a top-five team at home since their first-ever Big East game in January of 2006 when they took down another second-ranked UConn team, 94-79.
"We’re excited to play Villanova," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "You look at what they’ve done this year, it’s remarkable the accomplishments they’ve had up until this point. We’ll have to play our absolute best to even have a chance. I know they’ll be excited to play again after kind of an abnormal game against Creighton in their last game. We’ll have our hands full from the very beginning."
Because of how its loss to Creighton went, Villanova should be a very motivated team Saturday. The Wildcats were blitzed by nine Bluejays 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes and were routed by 28 points. Creighton, led by Ethan Wragge’s nine triples, hit a Big East-record 21 3-point shots to take over first place from Villanova.
The Wildcats are itching to get back out on the floor and avenge a loss that has received a lot of attention because of how well Creighton shot the ball. It was only the second defeat of the season for Villanova with the other coming on the road at No. 2 Syracuse.
"I think we have been playing really well and consistently," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Monday night we just put together an average performance and faced Creighton, which put together an outstanding performance. I just thought we were a little off and they were great.
"Now we have to go at Marquette, a tough, physical team. They are always a great defensive team and will be tough to beat at home."
Villanova was expected to compete for an NCAA tournament berth when the season started, but nobody saw the Wildcats becoming a top-five team. Junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston leads the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game, but senior guard James Bell adds 14.2 points per game and junior guard Darrun Hilliard chips in 13.5.
Freshman guard Josh Hart has been a pleasant surprise, averaging 9.8 points off the bench. Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono has taken a step back in scoring from his freshman season and is still struggling with his shot, but the sophomore makes the Wildcats tick.
"They put stress on your team defensively because of the skillset of the four guys they are playing, sometimes five guys, that are perimeter players," Williams said. "Pinkston has a perimeter skillset but he can guard the post, he can guard a perimeter guy. They switch a lot of screens because of that. Their team is probably back to what it was my first year in the league when they had four guards on the floor, spread you out, four guys that can all shoot, dribble and pass."
With just one win over a team in the top 50 of the RPI, Marquette is in desperate need of quality wins. Beating a Villanova team ranked fourth in the AP poll and fifth in the RPI would not only be a signature victory but could propel a Golden Eagles on that ever-so-talked-about run.
"They are kind of finding their way right now but they are much more interior-oriented," Wright said of Marquette. "They are playing really good basketball. They’ve figured out how to play."
None of this talk about getting on a roll would have been possible without Monday’s win at Georgetown. A team that had lost so many close games suddenly was able to pull one out, giving it quite the confidence boost.
Now five of Marquette’s next seven games are at home, a building in which it plays with tremendous self-belief.
"The season is really long and there’s so many games left," senior forward Jamil Wilson said. "There’s no telling when that run could be, but that turn at Georgetown could be the start of it. I think it put a lot of things in perspective and showed us you need your whole team to win.
Special uniforms for a special cause: When Marquette takes the floor Saturday, the Golden Eagles won’t be in their traditional home white uniforms or even their alternate baby blue or gold uniforms.
Instead, Marquette will don special pink uniforms and pink shoes as part of Coaches vs. Cancer and Sneakers Awareness Weekend, a collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches to raise awareness in the fight against cancer.
The jerseys were first shown to Marquette players Thursday and the reaction was positive, as Steve Taylor Jr. even put one on to model.
"I like them," freshman point guard John Dawson said. "I haven’t (worn pink before)."
The cause the uniforms represent is especially close to Jamil Wilson’s heart, as he lost his mother, Carolyn, to cancer following his sophomore season of high school basketball in 2007. She was just 43 years old at the time of her passing.
"As the years go by, games like this mean so much more to me," Wilson said. "Not only did my mother have cancer, but I’ve actually learned more about it and things like that. It’s always been a big thing to me.
"Every year when we do these games, Coaches vs. Cancer, I usually imprint my mom’s name on my shoes. Just to be a part of one of these games means a lot to me. I’m playing in her name."