Villanova upsets No. 17 Marquette on Senior Night

Villanova upsets No. 17 Marquette on Senior Night
February 23, 2013, 11:00 pm
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VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Surely there must have been a million thoughts swirling through Mouphtaou Yarou’s mind as he stood on top of the scorer’s table following Villanova’s crucial 60-56 win over Marquette on Saturday.

Perhaps the Villanova senior was thinking about what it meant to play in his final game at the Pavilion. Or maybe he was remembering all of the important moments in his life that helped turn a soccer player from Africa into a terrific American college basketball player. Or maybe he was thinking about the suddenly realistic possibility of making the NCAA tournament one more time before graduating.

So what was it, Mouph? What was going through your mind as you stood in front of your adoring fans following Villanova’s third win over a nationally ranked team this season?

“Nothing, really,” the soft-spoken senior said. “I emptied my mind because I didn’t want to get too emotional. I just emptied my mind. When I get back to my room, I’ll think about it.”

For Villanova head coach Jay Wright, temporarily misplacing the heavy emotions surrounding Saturday’s senior night celebration was an important step in getting the hard-fought victory over the 17th-ranked Golden Eagles (19-7 overall, 10-4 Big East). It was, however, very difficult because Yarou and fellow senior Maurice Sutton are both “beloved figures here,” the coach said. So when the game ended, Wright made sure to find his two seniors and give them both a big hug.

“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.”

Sutton started the game but played only three minutes, and Yarou finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Fittingly, Yarou had the ball in his hands as time expired.

The seniors’ final game at the Pavilion may have turned out differently if not for a brilliant effort from sophomore Darrun Hilliard, who scored a game-high 22 points. During one seven-minute stretch in the second half, the ’Nova sophomore dropped in 11 points, including two clutch three-pointers, to help the Wildcats build a comfortable lead (see Instant Replay).

Hilliard also played excellent defense on Marquette’s talented slew of guards, none of whom had more than 12 points. In fact, the Golden Eagles’ top two scorers, Vander Blue and Davante Gardner, scored a meager seven points and two points, respectively.

Afterwards, Hilliard talked about what it meant to play such a good game on both ends of the court on senior night.

“At the end of the game, when Mouph and Mo were standing on top of the table, it’s emotional even for me,” Hilliard said. “I was emotional for them because I respect them so much – the things they do every day for the team and for myself individually. It was just a special feeling. And it’s something I’ll look forward to when I go through that.”

Hilliard has a long way to go before his own senior night. First on the agenda is making the NCAA tournament next month, which, for a team that was picked to finish 12th in the Big East in the preseason, looks surprisingly close to happening.

Heading into their final three games of the regular season – road contests at Seton Hall and Pitt before a March 6 showdown against Georgetown at the Wells Fargo Center – the Wildcats own a healthy 18-10 overall record (9-6 Big East) as well as at least three signature wins. Last month, they defeated Syracuse and Louisville, both of whom were ranked the top five, in the same week.

“I’ve said all the way, ‘Let’s see how good we can be,’” Wright said. “Now it’s turned the other way and it’s ‘Let’s see if we can keep getting better.’ I’ve always said, ‘Let’s be the best team we can be by the end of the year.’ And I think this team still has a chance to be a lot better.”

The Wildcats certainly showed how good they can be Saturday against a tough Marquette team that, as Wright said, likes “to grind the hell out of you.”

In addition to Hilliard and Yarou, freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono (11 points) and sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston (11 points) both hit double figures. And despite shooting just 3 for 10 from the field, Arcidiacono played as smart and heady as he always does, finishing with four rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers.

“Arch is like having another upperclassmen out there,” Wright said. “That’s what Arch brings to our team. He’s like another senior for us.”

With Arcidiacono running the show, Villanova committed only 10 turnovers as a team and was able to score 17 points off Marquette’s 19 giveaways. Throw in the fact that the Wildcats shot nearly 60 percent from the field in the second half and that turned out to be the difference in the game.

“I always want to give credit to the opponent,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “If we get whipped, I always say we get whipped.”

Villanova is getting into the habit of doing that to nationally ranked teams.

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