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No. 6 Villanova rolls past DePaul

The SportsXchange

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- The Villanova Wildcats have proved this season that they have quite a few dangerous weapons on the offensive end of the floor. If center Daniel Ochefu can become another one of them, the Wildcats could be just about unstoppable.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore had an almost flawless game against DePaul on Saturday afternoon as No. 6 Villanova rolled to an 88-62 victory over the Blue Demons to extend its winning streak to five and stay atop the Big East Conference.

Ochefu has been the Wildcats' starting center all season but had been mostly a role player through Villanova's first 15 games of the season, scoring in single digits each time. After reaching the double-digit mark for the second game in a row -- he dropped 10 against St. John's a week ago -- he could be emerging as a legitimate offensive threat with a big stretch of games coming up.

"So proud of him, man," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "He takes great pride in his passing, his defense and it takes time for a forward to develop offensively but he's been carrying us defensively and on the glass."

Against DePaul (10-9, 2-4 Big East), Ochefu finished 6 of 6 from the floor for his 14 points before departing for the final time to a nice ovation with 2:55 remaining and the Wildcats up 20 points. He also had six rebounds (two offensive), tied a career high with four assists and threw in three blocks for good measure, all while picking up just one foul in 29 minutes of action.

"I'm really comfortable," Ochefu said. "My coaches and my teammates do a great job of being confident in myself, and I just respond to them having confidence in me."

DePaul had five players in double figures, led by senior guard Brandon Young's 13 points, though it took him 4-of-14 shooting to get there. Guard Billy Garrett had 11, while center Tommy Hamilton IV, forward Cleveland Melvin and guard Charles McKinney had 10 apiece.

A strong defensive finish to the first half had Villanova (16-1, 5-0 Big East) leading DePaul 33-24 at intermission.

However, aside from briefly cutting the lead to five just after play resumed, the Blue Demons hardly threatened the Wildcats after that. An 8-0 run quickly pushed the lead to 13, where it would stay for several minutes until another 11-0 run made it 75-52 with 5:40 to play.

Ochefu was one of five Wildcats to score 10 points or more, with senior wing James Bell pacing the squad with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, adding in eight rebounds as well. Sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono would match Ochefu's 14, freshman guard Josh Hart had 13 and junior guard Darrun Hilliard had 11.

As a team, Villanova had 21 assists on five turnovers and out-rebounded DePaul 37-26.

"I think we played well," Wright said. "Not pretty, but well. I thought we played pretty well defensively and we rebounded the ball well, (which) against this team is important."

After shooting just 35.2 percent from the floor against St. John's, the team's third-worst performance of the year, Villanova's cold shooting continued into the first half against DePaul. The Wildcats made just six of their first 20 shots from the field as neither team lit up the nets in the early going, leaving the score tied at 16 with 8:27 until the break.

But then things started to change for Villanova, which closed the half on a 17-6 run in making six of their final 10 shots from the floor before the buzzer.

"I thought those three or four minutes there towards the end of the first half really hurt us," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "Our offense was stagnant against their sagging man-to-man, and you've got to move the ball."

Villanova will face Creighton on Monday night with sole first place in the Big East at stake, as the Bluejays are the only other 5-0 team in conference play. DePaul is back in action on Monday afternoon when it hosts Xavier at 4 PM EST.

NOTES: DePaul entered Villanova having won two consecutive Big East Conference games. The Blue Demons haven't won three straight since Feb. 8-Feb. 17, 2007. ... DePaul entered Saturday with a 46-game losing streak against ranked opponents, including two losses this season. ... Villanova's No. 6 ranking is its highest of the season and best overall since the Wildcats were ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll on Dec. 7, 2009. ... Villanova freshman wing Josh Hart has been named the Big East Rookie of the Week in three of the past four weeks. The Washington, D.C., native entered the game averaging 9.9 ppg and 4.7 rpg.
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