VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)—Study any Villanova season under Jay Wright and it’s clear star guards made it a national power. Randy Foye and Scottie Reynolds led the transition to Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes.
Fisher and Stokes are doing their part this season, for sure.
This year, however, the Wildcats are winning games inside.
Mouphtaou Yarou scored 18 points, Antonio Pena had 14 points and 10 rebounds and No. 12 Villanova snapped a two-game losing streak in a 75-70 win over Marquette on Wednesday night.
Yarou and Pena continued to thrive inside for the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3). They combined for 15 rebounds and have become the Wildcats’ most consistent players this season—and are more than just dirty-work players under the glass.
“Villanova doesn’t win too many games because of their inside game, and I think we did,” Wright said. “I thought Mouph was outstanding and ‘Tone was great.”
Fisher controlled the game with 17 points and six assists for the Wildcats, who had lost three of four and fell out of the top 10.
That kind of slump is bound to happen in the rugged Big East and even a return to their on-campus home didn’t make the game any easier for the Wildcats.
“You just never know when it can turn around in this league,” Wright said. “The good thing about this league is, if you do turn it around, you’re going to be playing a top-10, top-15 team and you’re going to look good quick.”
They were never comfortable in this one against a Golden Eagles team (14-9, 5-5) that wanted to prove Wright’s point.
Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom each scored 15 points for Marquette.
The Wildcats led by as many as 14 in the second half until a cold Marquette team ditched the 3-pointers and hit the paint for easy buckets.
The Golden Eagles whittled the lead to three on two free throws by Jae Crowder. Chris Otule’s putback kept it a three-point game and he followed with a big block on ‘Nova’s possession. The Wildcats retained the ball and a fearless Fisher drove at the 6-foot-11 Otule, who had four fouls, and scored the layup to make it 64-59.
Yarou answered a Marquette bucket with a bucket that fouled out Crowder, who had nine points. Former NBA coach Larry Brown, from his baseline seat, clapped after Yarou’s free throw and yelled “Get a stop!” as the Wildcats shifted into defense.
The Wildcats wouldn’t get a stop on that possession as the Golden Eagles kept attacking the basket. The Golden Eagles were abysmal on 3-pointers— missing 13 of 16 attempts—after shooting 46 percent from the arc in their win over Syracuse.
Butler gave Marquette one last sliver of hope when he nailed one and it was a 72-68 game with 20.1 seconds left.
The Golden Eagles failed to force turnovers off the fullcourt press and had to foul, allowing the Wildcats to clinch from the free-throw line.
The Wildcats went 29 of 33 from the free-throw line and Marquette was only 13 of 14.
“When the other team is scoring that many points from the free-throw line, it’s rough to win,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
Pena joined senior teammates Fisher and Stokes with his 1,00th career point. It’s only the second time in team history a senior class has three players with 1,000 points.
“He’s been a rock for this team,” Wright said. “Of all the guys on our team, we’re all so impressed with him in terms of the kind of man he’s become, the leader, the player.”
Pena, a 6-foot-8 forward, had his fourth double-double of the season. His knack for stepping away from the basket for that 8-footer, his defense in the post and the way he flawlessly handles the ball against the press makes him invaluable.
“It’s developing as a power forward school, too,” Pena said. “Working with (the frontcourt) every day and being able to rely on the fours to get it done is a great experience. It makes us a lot better, a lot harder team to guard.”
Flyers stars Mike Richards and Claude Giroux, and two of their teammates, sat behind Villanova’s bench.
The first half should have seen all the players whistled into the penalty box for poor shooting. The Golden Eagles made only nine baskets and Villanova took a 34-25 lead into the break.
The Golden Eagles went 3-5 in a stretch of playing seven ranked opponents in eight games.
“We have to find something to change to the tempo,” Williams said. “We can’t just keep trading baskets.”