By Joe Juliano
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA _ Villanova gave the Wells Fargo Center sellout crowd many reasons to get on its feet and cheer during the Wildcats’ game Saturday against Georgetown, but the spectators saved their most sustained periods of standing and their loudest cheers for near the end.
First, coach Jay Wright lifted senior center Daniel Ochefu with three minutes to play, leading to the first loud standing ovation. Then, after he scored the Wildcats’ last basket with 44.5 seconds to play, senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono went to the bench showered by thunderous cheers and chants of “Ar-chie.”
The third-ranked Wildcats made the regular-season farewell of Ochefu and Arcidiacono a memorable one with an 84- 71 victory over the Hoyas before 20,173. They enter this week’s Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden with their third consecutive 16-2 conference record and third No. 1 seed in a row.
Villanova (27-4) will play its first tournament game Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals, and its opponent could once again be Georgetown (14-17, 7-11), which has lost six straight games. The Hoyas, the eighth seed, will take on No. 9 DePaul on Wednesday with the winner meeting the Wildcats.
But first, Wright allowed himself to show satisfaction over what his team accomplished this season.
“A great culmination of the regular season,” he said. “We couldn’t be prouder of this group of guys. It’s a grind to win a regular-season championship. We’re really grateful to the Villanova fans who came out today to sell this place out and really honor these guys.”
The Wildcats came out smoking. They made seven of their first eight shots, then used an 11-0 run to take a 27-6 lead before the game was nine minutes old. They boosted their margin to 24 points early in the second half and withstood a rally that brought the Hoyas to within 11.
Arcidiacono, a Langhorne native who used to go to South Philadelphia to watch the 76ers, was one of four Wildcats in double figures, scoring 16 points to go with five rebounds, five assists, and three steals. He said the ovation at the end took him a bit by surprise.
“Coming out to a standing ovation, Coach Wright said to me, ‘How neat is this?’ ” he said. “I don’t even think I said anything. I was so kind of like in shock because I was surprised that my four years is done at the Wells Fargo Center. It was pretty special.”
Ochefu contributed 10 points, six rebounds, and four assists. The Wildcats were credited with 23 assists on their 27 field goals.
Josh Hart scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. After Marcus Derrickson’s 3-point basket capped a 10-0 Georgetown run and cut the lead to 58- 47, Hart scored nine of his team’s next 11 points to extend the advantage to 69-53 with just over six minutes remaining.
L.J. Peak led Georgetown with 31 points.
The Wildcats will head to New York in defense of their 2015 tournament title. If all goes according to form, they could be back at the Wells Fargo Center in less than three weeks for the NCAA East Regional semifinals.
To Arcidiacono, however, there is only Thursday.
“We really do just take it one game at a time, one day at a time,” he said. “If we get to (the regional semifinals), it means we were successful in taking it one game at a time in the Big East tournament and in the NCAA Tournament.”