PHILADELPHIA — With the regular season Big East title already wrapped up, the Villanova Wildcats could have coasted in their finale against the Georgetown Hoyas.
Instead, the Wildcats played one of their best games of the season and put the Hoyas down early and often in a 77-59 victory.
“Normally, it’s very difficult,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “But it has not been difficult with this group because of the leadership of this group.
“They’re very mature; these guys just bring it every day in practice and I think that’s what’s unique about them, to keep an intensity level regardless of the circumstances.”
No. 6 Villanova (28-3, 16-2 in the Big East) was paced by guard Darrun Hilliard with 19-points and five assists.
The Wildcats had four others score in double-digits, including forward JayVaughn Pinkston, who had 13 points while hitting five of his six shots.
Georgetown (17-13, 8-10) got a lift from senior guard Markel Starks, who scored a game-high 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field.
Villanova came out firing on all cylinders, opening up the first two minutes of the game on a 9-2 run. That stretch was capped by a steal and dunk by Hilliard, which forced Georgetown coach John Thompson III to use an early timeout.
The timeout helped calm the Hoyas and gave them a chance to chip away at the early deficit. Twice they were able to get the Wildcats’ lead down to one point, but a 24-12 Villanova run in the final 11 minutes of the first half gave the Wildcats a 13-point lead.
Georgetown had to suffer through most of the first half without Starks and fellow guard Jabril Trawick because of foul trouble. Both guards picked up three fouls in the first 14 minutes of the game.
Starks and Trawick combined to play 24 minutes and score 10 points in the first half.
“We’ve had several games where our post players have been in significant foul trouble,” Thompson said. “Sometimes we figured it out, sometimes we haven’t.
“It’s more harmful for us when our guards, our perimeter players, are in foul trouble because we depend on them to do so much.”
Nothing changed for the Wildcats, as they increased their lead to 21 points midway through the second half. Seven straight points, including five from Hilliard, helped give the Wildcats their largest lead of the game.
Heading into Saturday’s game, the Hoyas were only turning the ball over 11.7 times per game. Against Villanova, they eclipsed that mark with less than three minutes into the second half.
The Hoyas turned the ball over 18 times in the game, tied for their second-highest total on the season, which led to 22 points for the Wildcats.
“We have a small margin of error and we came out early and had unnecessary, unforced turnovers,” Thompson said. “Which leads to transition baskets for them; they got them early and that got them going.
“We tried to claw back in it and claw back in it and then we had some missed opportunities.”
Because of Kansas’ loss at West Virginia earlier, Villanova will be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
But, as the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament, the Wildcats are only looking to improve each and every day leading up to their first game at Madison Square Garden.
“Coach makes sure that doesn’t really get into our heads,” Hilliard said. “We don’t really buy into it; all of the coaches keep us humble and push us to get better.
“We’re going to hear it from social networks and TV. It is what it is, today is today and tomorrow is a new day. We just have to move forward and get better.”
NOTES: This is the second time these teams finished the regular season against each other. Last year, Villanova took home a 67-57 win over the Hoyas at the Wells Fargo Center. … The Wildcats extended their conference victory total to 16, a school record. … Hoyas G Jabril Trawick is a Philadelphia native. In three previous games against Villanova, the junior had 11 points and
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