Marquette-Villanova Preview

The Associated Press

Villanova coach Jay Wright already knows his team needs to keep an eye on Marquette star Darius Johnson-Odom.

It would be wise to keep track of Davante Gardner, too.

Johnson-Odom and Gardner look to help the 17th-ranked Golden Eagles sweep the regular-season series from the Wildcats for the first time Saturday in Philadelphia.

Marquette (17-4, 6-2 Big East) opened conference play with an 81-77 home win over Villanova on New Year's Day. Johnson-Odom scored the game's first points on an alley-oop dunk and never looked back.

The 6-foot-2 senior, third in the Big East in scoring at 18.1 points per game, had nine of his season high-tying 24 points in just over a 3-minute span of the first half to help the Golden Eagles take an 11-point lead. Johnson-Odom, whom Wright called "a (heck) of a player," made 4 of 6 3-pointers and grabbed six rebounds.

"They do a great job of finding him in transition and he does a great job being patient and waiting for the ball to get to him in the offense," Wright said after the game. "That first-half run he had ... that was a killer."

With Johnson-Odom demanding attention on the perimeter, that helped open things up in the paint for Gardner. The 6-foot-8, 290-pound forward came off the bench to contribute 13 points and a then-career best 10 rebounds.

It was somewhat of a breakout game for Gardner. The sophomore has since been re-inserted into the starting lineup, averaging 13.6 points on 56.1 percent shooting and 7.6 rebounds during Marquette's five-game winning streak.

"He gives us a lot of inside power," Johnson-Odom said after Gardner had 15 points and seven boards in Tuesday's 67-47 win over South Florida. "I don't know why a lot of teams haven't really focused in on him, haven't really started to double the post when he catches the ball. But if you're going to let him play one-on-one, it's probably either a foul or a basket."

Gardner is tied for the Big East lead with 8.2 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes, and he's hit 71.1 percent in conference games.

With Gardner coming into his own and Johnson-Odom scoring at least 17 in seven consecutive games, Marquette is in position to win six straight Big East contests for the first time since opening conference play 9-0 in 2009.

"I just think we're in a really good groove," coach Buzz Williams said. "And obviously when you win, everybody gets more greedy (for success) and that helps."

Things haven't been going quite as smoothly for Villanova (10-11, 3-6), off to its worst start in conference play since 2008.

In Wednesday's 84-74 loss to Louisville, the Wildcats' offense struggled to get in rhythm with Maalik Wayns plagued by foul trouble. The junior guard, second in the Big East in scoring at 18.7 points per game, finished with 19 in 23 minutes after combining for 92 points in his previous three contests.

"You have to be a good enough team because you know that is going to happen," Wright said.

Even if Wayns can stay out of foul trouble, he could be in for another tough game against Marquette.

The Golden Eagles, limiting opponents to an average of 60.6 points on 39.5 percent shooting during their winning streak, held Wayns to 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting four weeks ago. Wayns has averaged 9.7 points on 25.8 percent shooting in three games against Top 25 teams this season, and Villanova has lost eight straight versus ranked foes.

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