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Jay Wright’s coaching led to two blowout victories for the Wildcats last week. (Lucas Migliarino/The Villanovan)

by Pat Ralph

Coming off of a dominating victory against the DePaul Blue Demons last Tuesday in a stretch of six games within 16 days, the men’s basketball team followed up with an impressive 68-40 victory over the Bulls of the University of South Florida last Saturday at the Pavilion to sweep the regular season series against the Bulls.

The win improved the Wildcats to 15-9 overall and 6-5 in Big East play, while the Bulls fell to 10-13 overall and 1-10 in conference play, which is last in the Big East.

The Wildcats were propelled by shooting 52 percent from the field, 53 percent from behind the 3-point line and outscoring the Bulls in both the paint (22-12) and off the bench (27-17).

The Bulls were unable to heat up from the field during the entire contest, shooting an abysmal 23 percent from the field and, even worse, five percent (1-17) from 3-point land.

The Bulls also made a season-low 10 field goals in the contest. USF was led in scoring by freshman guard Javontae Hawkins’ 13 points.

Sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard led the way for the Wildcats with 17 points in the contest, while redshirt sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston poured in 10 points to the Wildcats efforts.

Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou led the Wildcats in the rebounding department, pulling down 10 to help the Wildcats outrebound the Bulls 39-28 in the game.

Head coach Jay Wright was very happy with the performance he saw from his ’Cats last Saturday.

“It was a good win for us — a Big East win is a good win,” said Wright in his post-game press conference. “I just thought we were really consistent defensively and did a really good job on that end of the floor. I just like where we’re going. We’re getting better.”

USF sophomore guard Anthony Collins dropped in a short jumper to open the scoring for USF before Villanova responded with a 12-0 surge capped by a driving layup and subsequent free throw from junior guard Tony Chennault that gave the ’Cats a 12-2 lead after just over four minutes had passed in the first half.

USF pulled back to within 16-11 when senior guard Jawanza Poland dropped in a 3-pointer midway through the period.

However, Villanova got a score from Pinkston that was followed with a long-distance 3-point field goal from sophomore guard Achraf Yacoubou to build a 21-11 advantage with 7:57 on the clock before halftime.

Villanova then extended its lead with an 18-5 surge to finish the half and the Bulls would never shave the deficit to fewer than 20 points again.

A Yarou basket just before the buzzer sounded for halftime allowed the Wildcats to take a 39-16 edge with them into the locker room at break.

Hilliard and Yarou led a balanced Wildcat attack in the period with nine points each. Villanova owned a 21-8 advantage on the glass in the first 20 minutes.

They managed to connect on 65 percent (13-20) of their field goal attempts in the first half, including 3-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Two 3-pointers from Hilliard in the first eight minutes of the second half and exceptional defensive work allowed Villanova to push the lead to 50-20, its largest lead of the 2012-13 campaign.

The lead grew to as many as 34 points before ending in a 68-40 final. The 40 points allowed were the second fewest ever scored by an opponent at the Pavilion.

“We were up big and we just didn’t quit,” reflected Hilliard in the post-game press conference.  “Some games we would be up in the first half and we would just let them come back, but for this game we kept grinding and kept getting stops and that led to the victory.”

As of Monday’s games, the Wildcats sat tied for ninth in the Big East standings and only two games out of first place in the conference.

And, for anyone who knows Big East basketball well, it is fair to say that Villanova is right in the thick of the conference championship race.

The Wildcats will need to continue shooting the ball well from both in the paint and behind the 3-point line, and continue their dominance in rebounding, getting good production off the bench and communicating well on the defensive end of the floor.

Doing all of this will hopefully prove their worth as a possible entry in the NCAA Tournament. As of Monday, the Wildcats found themselves “on the bubble”.

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