by Gregory Habeeb
The Villanova women’s basketball team fell short in Sunday’s Big East matchup to conference rival Marquette at the Pavilion by a score of 60-56.
The Wildcats (16-7, 5-5 Big East) came into the game looking to snap out of a rough stretch that has seen them lose five of their last six games and fall to ninth place in the Big East.
Both teams came out firing early on. Marquette (12-11, 4-6 Big East) hit 13 of their first 16 shots but were unable to parlay such an efficient start into a large advantage, managing to lead by merely five points with 8:49 remaining in the first half.
By halftime, the Golden Eagles trailed by two points, 39-37. This was due in large part to the play of ’Nova senior forward Laura Sweeney, who scored 18 of her game high 26 points in the first half.
Sweeney’s scoring outburst was a season high, eclipsing her previous mark of 24 in the season opener against South Dakota State. She also tacked on four rebounds and a block. It was the Marlton, New Jersey native’s 13th 20-point game of her career.
The Wildcats were also able to take advantage of a mid-game shooting slump by their opponents, as Marquette shot three of 13 from the field in the final 10 minutes of the half.
The second half was a polar opposite of the first half for both teams. After Villanova and Marquette shot 58 and 55 percent respectively from the floor in the first half, the script was flipped. Villanova shot merely 24 percent (six of 25 from the field), while Marquette posted a 32 percent from the field (nine of 28).
The Wildcats went ice cold from 3-point land in the second half as well, unable to convert on any of their 12 3-pointers in the second period after hitting six of 12 from behind the arc in the first half.
Villanova was held scoreless for nearly five minutes to start the half, missing their first six shot attempts.
Sweeney broke the drought by hitting a pair of free throws at the 15:09 mark to pull the Wildcats to within two. ’Nova tied the game at 43 just over 90 seconds later with their first field goal of the half on a driving layup by Sweeney.
The Sweeney basket was assisted by junior guard Devon Kane, who had a team high five dimes and only one turnover.
With seven minutes remaining in the game, Villanova took a 49-47 lead on a mid-range jumper by sophomore forward Taylor Holeman.
This would prove to be the final advantage that the Wildcats would possess in the score column, as Marquette junior forward Katherine Plouffe converted a layup from the left side off of a pass from freshman guard Brooklyn Pumroy to give the Golde Eagles a 51-49 lead, which they would not relinquish with 5:45 to go in the game.
After Sweeney made a couple of foul shots at the 2:12 mark to pull the ’Cats to within two points, Marquette’s senior forward Sarina Simmons buried a 3-pointer with a little over a minute remaining. The trey came following three consecutive misses by Marquette players, who atoned for their miscues by coming up with three consecutive offensive rebounds.
Rebounding was Villanova’s downfall in this Big East Matchup. ’Nova was outrebounded by Marquette 42 to 27. The Wildcats failed to protect the offensive glass as well, as the Golden Eagles managed to garner 13 offensive rebounds to Villanova’s four. This disparity carried over into a 10 point advantage in second-chance points for Marquette.
Controlling the glass has proven to be a growing problem for Villanova this season. ’Nova is spotless 8-0 when outrebounding their opponents and a pedestrian 7-7 when their opponents out rebound them.
Over the last four games (all losses), the Wildcats have been losing the rebounding battle by an average of 13.8 boards per game and the second chance points battle by an average of six and a half points per game.
With 59 seconds remaining, ’Nova pulled within three when sophomore forward Lauren Buford grabbed a rebound off a missed 3-point attempt, and put it back up to make the score 58-55.
After a defensive stop, senior guard Rachel Roberts drew a shooting foul and trimmed Marquette’s lead to two by splitting the free throws with 11 seconds left.
Villanova’s last charge would come up short, however, as Plouffe iced the game with a pair of clutch free throws in the game’s waning seconds.
Plouffe led all Marquette scorers with 15 points, and also added five rebounds and three assists.
The loss was only ’Nova’s second home loss of the season. The Wildcats head to Washington D.C. to take on Georgetown this Saturday at 2 p.m.