Feb. 3, 2014
VILLANOVA, Pa. - Senior James Bell (Orlando, Fla.) and junior Darrun Hilliard (Bethlehem, Pa.) sparked a 53-point second half to lift No. 6 Villanova to an 81-58 victory over Xavier in a BIG EAST game played Monday night at the Pavilion. Bell finished the evening with 27 points, including 21 after intermission, while Hilliard tallied 15 of his 17 points after the break.
The Wildcats improved to 20-2 overall, 8-1 in the BIG EAST while the Musketeers are 15-7, 5-4 in the conference. It is the ninth time in the last 13 seasons that the `Cats have posted a 20-win campaign and the 20-2 start matches the second best in school history. Only the 2009-10 squad, which opened with 20 wins in its first 21 games, had a better burst from the opening bell.
"That's a very good win for us against a very good team," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "We are well aware we are going to have to go back there and play them (on March 6 in Cincinnati). They're good. I don't think this score was indicative of the matchup of these two teams. We got hot there in the end when they had to open up the floor to trap.
"I think it was one of our best defensive efforts of the year."
The Wildcats limited the Musketeers to 20-of-53 shooting on the night (.377) and created 16 turnovers. In turn, VU connected on 21-of-35 second half field goal attempts (.600) to complete the night 32-of-65 from the floor and 11-of-28 from beyond the 3-point arc (.393).
"(It's) juniors and seniors," stated Wright when asked about his team's ability to retain its composure after Xavier used a 6-3 spurt in the opening minutes of the second half to shave the Wildcats' lead to 31-28. "In college basketball, when you have guys who are really mature it's big. They've seen it all, they've been there through the ups and downs. Nothing bothers them. They know what we need and they come out and do it."
Villanova opened the night with a flurry, recording the game's first nine points in just over three minutes. Forward JayVaughn Pinkston capped the run with a corner 3-pointer before Xavier signaled for timeout. The Musketeers got on the scoreboard on their next possession on a Matt Stainbrook dunk to stop the run. It was a 9-2 count with 4:36 gone in the first period.
The balance of the half featured gritty defense as both units clamped down. Villanova would limit Xavier to 8-of-26 field goal accuracy in the first half (.308) and forced 11 turnovers. However, the Musketeers hung close with stingy work at the defensive end (VU was 11-of-29 from the field in the opening 20 minutes) and rebounding, where they held a 21-17 edge. The Wildcats took a 28-22 lead into the locker room at halftime.
"We had a very simple, short halftime talk," noted Wright. "We said we've got to do what we do. (Bell and Hilliard) took care of it. It's nice to have guys like this on your team."
Bell and Pinkston led VU with eight rebounds apiece. The `Cats finished the night with a season-high 25 assists with seven turnovers.
The Wildcats will be back under the lights on Friday evening at 7 p.m. to host Seton Hall (Fox Sports 1).
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