Villanova coach Jay Wright knew what his Wildcats were up against. Not only did Marquette walk into The Pavilion as the No. 17 team in the country, the tough, battle-tested Golden Eagles also came in with four convincing wins in their last five games.
"They beat a lot of teams," Wright said of Marquette, "because they compete harder and they execute better."
Not on Saturday.
Darrun Hilliard scored 22 points and Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston both scored 11 to lead Villanova to a 60-56 upset. The Wildcats (18-10, 9-6 Big East) beat their third Top 25 conference team this season, and kept the Golden Eagles (19-7, 10-4) from snaring their 20th win.
It was not one to remember for Marquette. Junior Cadougan was its leading scorer with 12 points. And he was the only Golden Eagle in double figures. The effort drew the ire of coach Buzz Williams, who came down hard on his team's play, especially pointing a finger at Davante Gardner, Marquette's second-leading scorer, who was held to two points on 1-for-4 shooting. Gardner played only 11 minutes because the Marquette coach bluntly noted that "he played really bad."
"We were not 10-3 (in the Big East) because we did something unique offensively or defensively," Williams said. "We weren't 10-3 because we're the most-talented or best-coached. We were in a position to be in a position because of how hard we played. And we did not play hard enough today."
The Wildcats did, thanks to seniors Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton, who stood on the scorer's table and saluted the sold-out crowd in a scene that is getting familiar around here. After being picked to finish 12th in the preseason Big East poll, the Wildcats are slowly and surprisingly inching closer to an NCAA tournament berth.
"You want them to play in significant, big-time games and leave an imprint on the program," Wright said. "So when you see those two stand up there and you see how much the students love them, that's your dream come true as a coach."
On Villanova's senior night, Yarou was honored before the game with a stirring video tribute. The 6-foot-10 center finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in his final game at The Pavilion, punctuating the hard-fought victory with a slam with 15 seconds remaining.
"I emptied my mind because I don't want to get too emotional," Yarou said. "When I get back to my room, I'll think about it."
Hilliard scored 11 points during a 7-minute stretch in the second half that helped the Wildcats turn a three-point lead into a comfortable 54-43 advantage with 3:30 left. For Wright, however, the most important thing Hilliard did was slow down Marquette's talented guards.
"I know he had 22 and we probably don't win without him," Wright said of Hilliard. "But we're not in the game unless he defended the way he defended."
Knowing Marquette's style of play, the flow of the game was no surprise to Wright.
"It's a great Big East grind," Wright said. "And they make you play that way."
Marquette outrebounded Villanova 37-24, but committed 19 turnovers and allowed the Wildcats to shoot nearly 60 percent from the field in the second half.