PHILADELPHIA -- The last time the Villanova Wildcats and Georgetown Hoyas met, on Jan. 19, Villanova suffered its worst loss of the season when freshman forward Isaac Copeland came off the bench to score 17 points in the Hoyas' 20-point victory. The Wildcats looked eager to bury that memory as they hit the court to warm up for the rematch with their conference rivals on Saturday afternoon. And bury it they did.
Darrun Hilliard scored 15 points and Josh Hart tacked on 13 of his own to lead No. 7 Villanova (21-2, 8-2 Big East) to a 69-53 victory over No. 24 Georgetown (15-8, 7-5 Big East).
This time, the Wildcats beat the Hoyas at their own game, executing a double-digit victory, just two baskets shy of matching Georgetown's 20-point beatdown from last month.
“They looked like we did last game and we looked like they did” said Wildcats coach Jay Wright.
The last time these teams faced each other, Georgetown played excellent defense, at one point holding Villanova scoreless for more than seven minutes of play. But on Saturday, Villanova was able to summon superior defensive prowess, and Georgetown went without a field goal until 5:26 before halftime while scoring just 29 points in the first 25 minutes of play.
Villanova also sorely out-shot the Hoyas. Known to live and die perched on the three-point line, Villanova finished the game shooting 50 percent from three, compared to Georgetown’s 5.9 percent. The Hoyas' owere unable to execute effective offensive sets all game long -- the first bad omen came late in the first half, when freshman point guard Tre Campbell lost the ball out of bounds in the back court without any pressure on the ball. And though L.J. Peak lead Georgetown with 15 points, it didn’t receive any significant support from its leading scorer, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (15.8 ppg), who had 17 in the win over Villanova last month. Smith-Rivera went scoreless for the first half of the contest and finished with just two points on a combined 1-of-6 shooting.
“They did a good job of chasing us off the line,” Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. “We did a poor job of looking for our second, third, fourth option. We would come down for the first or second and break off the offense, but they did a good job. They were very aggressive.”
With the Big East Tournament looming, Saturday’s contest was pivotal for both teams. Although the Wildcats lead the Big East going into Saturday’s game, they were atop the standings by just half a game over Butler. A loss at this point in conference play would have put them on even footing with the Bulldogs, possibly jeopardizing a conference championship and what looks to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Meanwhile, the loss marks Georgetown’s second in a row and third in four games. It's also its fifth defeat within conference play alone, while it's quite possible that Villanova may not lose five games all season long.
The Wildcats donned throwback uniforms in front of a sold-out crowd, honoring Villanova’s sole national title in 1985 under Rollie Massimino. Despite the Big East experiencing a significant makeover in the last two years, characterized by the departure of longtime powerhouse programs such as Louisville and Syracuse, the Villanova-Georgetown rivalry remains one of the conference’s best.
“It’s a great rivalry. This is what college basketball is all about,” said Wright.
Before Saturday, the teams have been virtually neck-and-neck against each other, with each squad collecting 13 wins in the past 18 years of their matchup history.
Saturday’s contest was nothing but drive to the rim, rough and tumble, good ‘ole fashioned Big East basketball. The matchup was characterized by an abundance of turnovers, fouls (the teams combined for 35 and 38, respectively) and hard-nosed play, all of which proves that even in the absence of such powerhouse, blue blood programs, the Big East is still very much alive and well.