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Hopeful Marquette braces for No. 4 Villanova

- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Marquette floundered against Ohio State and came up short at Wisconsin.

After stumbling in both games against top 10 opponents this year, the Golden Eagles get another shot Saturday at a statement victory when they host No. 4 Villanova. This time, they're riding high after getting a big overtime win at Georgetown.

"That was more of a confidence win," freshman guard John Dawson said. "I mean, we can bounce back from 2-4 (in the Big East), but being 3-3 and beating Georgetown on the road gave the team a lot of confidence."

Wins have been tougher to come by this season for Marquette (11-8), a program that went to the NCAA regional finals last year. The preseason Big East favorite has also had three straight NCAA regional semifinal appearances and eight consecutive 20-win seasons.

As is typical under Williams, Marquette isn't lacking in defense. They're tops in the Big East in holding opponents to 64 points per game, and second in holding foes to a 39.7 percent shooting percentage.

Scoring has been the problem. The Golden Eagles are last in the league at 70.8 points per game, a mark that dips to 66.3 per game in their six Big East games.

Marquette has the muscle up front with 6-foot-8 Davante Gardner (14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds) and 6-foot-11 Chris Otule (6.4 points), while 6-foot-7 Jamil Wilson (11.6 points) can be a tricky matchup at forward.

But Marquette has lacked consistency, particularly from the backcourt. That's in part what is intriguing about the Golden Eagles pulled out the 80-72 win against the Hoyas.

Dawson has 12 points off the bench playing 31 minutes, his most extensive playing time this season. Steve Taylor, Jr., who has been slowed by a knee injury, had 14 points and eight rebounds also coming off the bench.

Todd Mayo's 3-pointer with less than 6 seconds left forced overtime before Marquette pulled away in the extra period.

"I think that shows a lot, especially on the road," Wilson said. "For this team, we've had a lot of ups and downs ... to be able to finally pull one out on the road can say a lot about us."

Maybe this will be the start of the run Marquette is looking for us as teams start thinking about their NCAA tournament resumes. The Villanova game begins a stretch of three of the next four at home at the Bradley Center.

That's good news for a team that's had 20 straight league wins at home, dating back to 2011-12. The Golden Eagles haven't lost a Big East game at home since Cincinnati beat them 67-60 on March 2, 2011.

Now comes the really tough part. The Wildcats are smarting after a humiliating 96-68 loss on Monday in Philadelphia to Creighton. Villanova will be eager to prove that was just a one-game hiccup.

Just like Marquette will be seeking to prove the Georgetown win was the start of something big.

"Definitely, coach Buzz (Williams) talked about it this morning. We haven't lost at the Bradley Center," Wilson said about the opportunity for Marquette on Saturday. "Any game can be pivotal."

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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