NEW YORK – Buzz Williams didn’t want to take any chances.
The Marquette coach is stubbornly set in his ways. What he believes he believes and what he believes his teams will believe.
On the chance that the Golden Eagles might forget, Williams had his motto stitched right on the players’ shorts.
Translation: Where do you live?
Translation: “Old people live in the past, always talking about how they did this and that,’’ Williams explained. “Young people love to talk about the future. Every one of these guys thinks they’re going to the league. Wise people live in the present.’’
The past said the Golden Eagles lost three 1,000-point scorers. The future, at least in the eyes of the Big East coaches in the preseason, said Marquette would finish no better than 12th in the 16-team league.
The present looks pretty darned good.
The Golden Eagles won their sixth game in seven tries, upsetting Villanova, 80-76 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. And they did it the way they always do: by the wisp of a baby’s hair.
Marquette staved off a furious Villanova rally, sealing their victory with a Lazar Hayward 3-pointer and holding on down the stretch. Of the Golden Eagles’ 32 games, 15 have been decided by four or fewer points, 13 by a single possession.
Marquette’s worst loss? By nine to Wisconsin.
“Their poise in the last eight to 10 minutes of a game is great because they know the deal,’’ Williams said. “We’re not going to blow anybody out. We have to keep it tight and hope it turns into a fight.’’
This one surely did. A physical, scrappy game the Eagles won doing what they do best: shooting 3s. They drained 11 of them.
Conversely Villanova lost doing what it does worst: playing defense. The Cats finally found another scorer – Corey Stokes finished with 22 points – but that wasn’t enough for the worst Big East team against the 3-point line to get over its Achilles heel.
It all added up to the Wildcats fifth loss in their past seven games, a skid that has sent them from 22-2 to 24-7, tumbling down the rankings and now down the NCAA tournament seed line.
Strangely there was no panic in the Villanova locker room. Jay Wright has contended that the 20-1 mark they held entering February was fool’s gold, that his team was winning games but the films showed critical mistakes and problem spots.
It sounds like a really good spin, but if it is, it’s one Wright is selling hard and well.
“We won some games we probably shouldn’t have,’’ Scottie Reynolds said. “Now a lot of people are making a big deal about this losing streak, but win or lose we do the same thing. We want to get better and I think we are. We’re playing a lot better now than we were No. 2 in the country.’’
If that’s the case, how good is Marquette playing? The Golden Eagles rode Hayward’s 20 points and Darius Johnson-Odom’s 24 to victory, coming back time and time again in a game that was tight from the opening tip.
“In every single practice, Coach really gears it up and it’s wild,’’ Hayward said. “It’s like a football practice the way we practice. And I think that’s why when we get in those games and we get in the guys of the game, we’re all calm because we do that every single day. We’re able to say, ‘Ok, we’ve been here before. We know what we’re supposed to do.’’’
What the Golden Eagles weren’t supposed to do, though, was be this good.
Clearly it all depends on where you live.