Philadelphia, PA -- From the opening tip in the early afternoon, the focus was on Darrun Hilliard.
For Marquette, the Wells Fargo Center was a freezer, stifling their open-looks, stopping their best attemtps. Jamil Wilson missed Marquette's opening shot, but Hilliard nabbed the board, swung a pass and faded to the three point line. He leapt and his 6-foot-6 frame nearly masked the arena's lights. Bang.
But it wouldn't end there.
Two minutes later, there he was again, leaping with the trees, his messy mane towering above Golden Eagle defenders. Swish. And six minutes later, again. Swoosh.
His motion has become a frequent sight of Villanova basketball, for Marquette a timely reminder of where their team was defensively. Twenty minutes later - bad defense or not - Hilliard's consistency turned into a season-high, a career-best.
The No. 8 Villanova Wildcats (26-3, 14-2 in Big East) made quick work of the Marquette Golden Eagles (17-12, 9-7 in Big East) 73 to 56 on Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center in front of over 15,000 fans. Hiliard tallied a career-high 26 points, pacing the Wildcats. Josh Hart and Tony Chennault combined for 12 first half points as well from the bench.
Villanova's 26th win marks the most in school history during the regular season. Their 14th win in Big East conference play also ties a school record.
And though he recorded his career-high, Hilliard - like many things this season - didn't know he had 26 points. He didn't even know Villanova was atop the Big East conference after Xavier's upset of Creighton.
"Honestly man, I didn't even know I had those points," Hilliard said with a smirk. "I was just going out there and making plays. Next game we play at Xavier and it's going to be a tough game. We just need to keep it moving."
With James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono in foul trouble for most of the contest, Hilliard and Hart stepped up for the Wildcats. The duo combined to score the team's first 20 points and shouldered the load of the offense without the club's scoring leader.
But it taught Coach Jay Wright something about his team. Even without two of the squad's best players, the Wildcats can still play at a high level.
"In the first half, playing without James Bell and [Arch] our intensity level went up," Wright said. "The play at the end of the half where Tony Chennault got Darrun Hilliard that three was big...it doesn't matter who's in [1st place of the Big East] until the last game."
And when it comes to the postseason, whether it be tournament time or the conference championships in Madison Square Garden, Wright said his team is staying the same. They're running nine players off the bench. No more, no less.
"We are working to have nine guys available at all times," Wright said. "Daryl Reynolds is available, he's ten. We have two forward spots so it's hard to play five forwards. It's easy to play five guards at three guard spots, but Reynolds is ready to give us minutes too."
Marquette's shooting struggles and slow-to-start offense were bothersome all afternoon. No player scored in double figures at the end of the first half and the Golden Eagles turned the ball over eight total times in the first set. Coach Buzz Williams received a technical foul and had to be restrained by Chris Otule.
The Wildcats held Marquette to 16.7 percent from deep in the first half, though they launched 16 first half threes themselves, connecting on only five. Bell didn't score. Arcidiacono netted three triples in the second half. Marquette's Deonte Burton tried to start a run for the Golden Eagles in the second half, scoring 11 straight points, but was halted by the Wildcat defense.
It was sloppy at times on both sides, Villanova missed assignments defensively, Marquette's offensive sets were poorly run which resulted in turnovers, but at the end of the day, as the downpour over Philadelphia washes away another team at the Wells Fargo Center, Marquette coach Buzz Williams respects the Wildcats.
"They're not No. 8 in the country because they're a bad club," Williams said following the game. "I don't think that they're going to win our league or are ranked as high because of statistics...Villanova just plays with a great spirit."
"You have to play at a high level from an intensity standpoint," Williams continued. "We did not do that the entire game. They did a great job. Period."