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No. 10 Marquette looks to bounce back vs. No. 14 Villanova

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

If the Marquette Golden Eagles didn't already have something to prove before welcoming Big East heavyweight Villanova into Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon, a frustrating loss earlier this week has likely done the trick.

No. 10 Marquette's inability to finish off their comeback from 15 points down on their home court in a 70-69 defeat to St. John's on Tuesday left the Golden Eagles (19-4, 8-2 Big East) two games behind No. 14 Villanova just past the halfway mark of the conference season.

The defending national champion Wildcats (19-4, 10-0), meanwhile, fended off pesky Creighton in overtime 66-59 on Wednesday. Earlier this season, Creighton took Marquette to overtime as well before the Golden Eagles prevailed 106-104.

Marquette, which had an eight-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday, has made an impression this season.

"Obviously one of the best teams in the country," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "They've proved it by beating teams like Louisville, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Buffalo. (It's) a really well-rounded team."

While the intrigue is whether the Golden Eagles have what it takes to supplant the Wildcats in what has become a two-team Big East race, there's no question how they'll try to do it.

Junior guard Markus Howard has averaged 24.6 points a game, and he's been known to put up big numbers in big games. He torched Creighton for 53 points and dropped 45 on a pair of ranked teams: Kansas State (then No. 12) and Buffalo (then No. 14).

If there's anything Howard can't do offensively, Wright either doesn't know what it is or is keeping it to himself, saying instead the Marquette star excels at moving without the ball, can get his own shot when he want it, and finds the open man when that's the better option.

"He's got every aspect of the game." Wright said. "He's got deep range. He's got a midrange game, he can get to the rim. ... He's just complete."

Howard also has a step-back jumper "that's really difficult to stop. It's almost as if you have to say, all right, that one -- we've got to give him. How effective he is hitting those is probably what you have to live and die with," Wright said.

Villanova, which has won 11 consecutive games, lost its four leading scorers from last year's championship team. But seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have settled in nicely to lead the young team, averaging 18.3 and 17.3 points per game, respectively.

Paschall, a 6-8 forward, is a close second on the team in rebounding as well at 6.3 per game, trailing Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (6.6).

Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said that while preparing to face Villanova is "not fun," he added that, "you've got to admire how well they've come along as a team, and the job that Booth and Paschall have done as leaders ... and a lot of their younger guys are really stepping up right now."

One of those is sophomore guard Collin Gillespie, who is averaging 12.1 points a game, a number that has been rising of late.

Gillespie made four 3-pointers in a game only twice in the Wildcats' first 15 games, but he has done so five times in their last seven games, including six in a game twice.

"Gillespie has been on fire recently, especially from behind the 3-point line, and he's really stepped up his game, and some of the other young guys that they have, have given them huge minutes," Wojciechowski said.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 9, 2019

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