VILLANOVA, Pa. -- With a huge Big East showdown on the horizon, Villanova’s biggest player is finding his game at just the right time.
Daniel Ochefu scored a career-high 14 points and guided No. 6 Villanova to an 88-62 win over DePaul at the Pavilion on Saturday afternoon (see Instant Replay).
The victory was the Wildcats’ (16-1, 5-0 Big East) fifth in a row and seventh consecutive over DePaul (10-9, 2-4). The win sets up a monster conference clash with No. 20 Creighton on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I’m so proud of him, man,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Ochefu. “He works hard at his offensive skills. He takes great pride in his passing and his defense.
“It takes time for a forward to develop.”
Things took a while to unfold for Villanova on Saturday. The Wildcats came out a little rusty after not playing since last week’s win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.
When Ochefu finally found his footing, so did the Wildcats.
The 6-foot-11, 245-pound big man threw down a dunk and made a jumper off of a pair of James Bell assists in the final two minutes of the first half to get himself going and give Villanova a nine-point lead heading into intermission.
He carried that over after halftime, getting fouled while making a layup for the Wildcats’ first points of the frame. Ryan Arcidiacono got free for an easy jump shot after an Ochefu block before the forward snatched a rebound out of the sky and fed JayVaughn Pinkston for a thunderous one-handed dunk that gave the 'Cats a 40-28 advantage and brought the home crowd to its feet.
“It’s great personally for me, knowing my teammates have great confidence in me,” said Ochefu, who also had six rebounds, four assists and three blocks. “For me, I just have to respond to that, and even if I make a mistake, just know they still have the same exact confidence and move on to the next play.”
Pinkston’s slam proved to be the beginning of the end for DePaul. The Blue Demons never got the game any closer than that moment for the rest of the day.
It also marked Pinkston’s first points of the game, a situation Villanova can afford when Ochefu is on his game like against DePaul.
“It really helps us defensively because we’re able to play him and JayVaughn together a lot because they’re both scoring now,” Wright explained. “If we have both of them in we’re better defensively, but sometimes we only have one in because we need some help offensively. But now, playing those two together, we’re great defensively and we’re just as good offensively.”
“It’s really good being on the court for my teammates,” Ochefu said. “I know I’m a big defensive presence and that’s the first thing we work on in practice every day. So just being able to be out there defensively for my team, first and foremost, was great.”
The numbers prove Wright’s point. Villanova moved the ball fluidly throughout the game with 21 assists and was still able to make 55.4 percent of its shots despite some early trouble. On the flip side, the Wildcats held the Blue Demons to 40.7 percent from the field and just 28.6 from three-point range.
The Wildcats know they will need both big men clicking and similar efforts they got on Saturday from Bell (17 points, eight rebounds) and Arcidiacono (14 points) to withstand a tough test from Creighton.
Although Villanova has played Creighton only three times -- one each from 1950-52, with the Wildcats winning all three -- these Wildcats know all about the Big East newcomers.
“I think last Sunday when they played Xavier I was on the road recruiting and I came back Monday and asked the guys did you see the game. They said yeah and I said how did Creighton beat Xavier, they all just went ‘Dougie McBuckets,’” Wright said, referencing Blue Jays All-American Doug McDermott. “They all really respect him and it made me feel good that our players respect him because I think he is the consummate all-around basketball player. I like that our guys like him because it tells me about their intelligence and their basketball I.Q.”
So how do you stop McDermott and the 20th-ranked Blue Jays?
“I got no clue yet,” Wright said with a smile. “When I watch their games I’m just thinking how do you stop these guys? I got ideas. It’s great to have ideas, but then when you got to make the decision to do it, that’s not so easy. So, honest to god, I don’t know yet.”
We’ll see what Wright came up with in 48 hours.