VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Darrun Hilliard scored 17 points to lead Villanova to a 68-40 victory over cold-shooting South Florida on Saturday.
The Wildcats (15-9, 6-5 Big East) led by as many as 34 points against the short-handed Bulls (10-13, 1-10), who were without leading scorer and rebounder Victor Rudd (groin).
JayVaughn Pinkston finished with 10 points for Villanova, which shot 52.4 percent (22-for-42) from the field, including 53.8 percent (7-for-13) from 3-point range.
“It’s a good win for us,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Any Big East win is a good win. I just like where we’re going. We’re getting better. Shot selection is a little better.”
The Wildcats followed one of their best offensive performances of the season in Tuesday’s 94-71 victory at DePaul with another strong game.
“I think we’re learning,” Wright said. “This is an inexperienced team that is very coachable. . Our play as a unit has improved. We’re really communicating well defensively and playing as a unit. And that takes time. I think you’re starting to see a team comfortable playing together and playing off each other and that’s what good teams do.”
Javontae Hawkins had 11 points for South Florida, which lost its sixth straight and 10th in 11 games. The Bulls, who entered last in the Big East in scoring at 60.6 points per game, had a season-worst 38 points on Jan. 12 at Louisville.
But the Bulls did set a season low for field goals made (10) and field-goal percentage (22.2 percent), going 10 of 45. South Florida also was a season-worst 1-for-16 from beyond the arc.
“We’re a struggling team right now,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “The basket seems really small and it affects everything that we’re doing right now. It’s affecting us defensively, just getting a rhythm on offense.
“It’s confidence. We’re not executing great, but there were a lot of times where we had a layup or an open shot, we’re shooting air balls. We have to find a way to shake it off.”
The Wildcats dominated the opening half, with Mouphtaou Yarou’s follow at the buzzer to send Villanova into halftime with 39-16 lead. Yarou ended with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Villanova has lost six times this season when leading at the break, so Wright was pleased to see his team pick up where it left off after halftime.
“We’ve had some leads in the first half and didn’t take care of business,” he said. “That was a good step for us. I really liked when we had a lead in the second half, when we were making shots and knew we could score, it didn’t take away from our defensive commitment.”
The Cats got a big lift from Hilliard, who entered averaging 11.4 points but netted 17 points for the third straight game. However, the sophomore guard said scoring isn’t his main focus.
“Just coming in and doing the little things,” he said. “Try to rebound the ball as much as I could. I don’t really come into the game looking to score or do anything spectacular. We didn’t overlook defense. We tried to find the right way to do it.”
South Florida missed 17 of 22 shots in the opening half, while Villanova was 13-for-20 from the field. The Wildcats dominated the glass in the opening 20 minutes, outrebounding the Bulls 21-8. Villanova finished with a 39-28 advantage on the glass.
Rudd, who entered averaging 10.7 points and 6.6 rebounds, hurt his groin in practice this week. Heath said his absence was felt by the Bulls.
“It took a big weapon away from us and it’s not like we’re loaded with a lot of offensive power,” he said.
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