Just as the conversation about Villanova's getting back into the NCAA tournament picture was rising in volume, Marquette came into the Wachovia Center last night and turned the switch to "off."
With Dominic James and his fellow guards controlling the play, particularly in the second half, the 21st-ranked Golden Eagles picked up an 85-75 Big East victory and snapped the Wildcats' three-game winning streak before a crowd of 16,992.
Villanova (17-10 overall, 7-8 Big East) was coming off a two-point win over then-No. 13 Connecticut at the same venue two days before. The Wildcats were trying to build momentum toward a big finish and to get back on the correct side of the NCAA bubble.
But the surge stopped on a night when the Wildcats committed a season-high 23 turnovers that led to 33 points by the Golden Eagles (21-6, 11-5) and watched the visitors hit 50 percent of their field-goal attempts, the first time in their last six games any opponent has shot better than 40 percent.
"We went out and played hard, but they just played outstanding," junior forward Dante Cunningham said. "They're a great team."
James, a 5-foot-11 junior, hurt Villanova from deep, knocking down five of eight attempts from three-point territory and leading all scorers with 25 points. He also posted six of Marquette's 15 steals. Guards Jerel McNeal (14 points) and Wesley Matthews had two steals apiece.
Nova guards Scottie Reynolds (14 points) and Corey Fisher (10) combined for 10 turnovers. Cunningham and Antonio Pena turned it over a total of 11 times. In the second half, the Wildcats lost the ball twice just trying to get it in bounds.
"They were just more physical," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
"They fought through every screen. They went after every pass, all those little things," he said.
Thanks to first-half runs of 17-2 and 9-0, the Wildcats led by as many as 10 points. But on the Golden Eagles' last miss of the second period, Cunningham grabbed the rebound and saw his outlet pass intercepted by Maurice Acker, who was fouled and hit a pair of free throws with less than a second to play.
Villanova still had a 39-32 lead entering the locker room, but Marquette had scored a staggering 21 points off 12 turnovers - or four more than the Wildcats committed the entire game against Uconn.
After the Cats scored the first basket of the second half, the Golden Eagles went on a 17-4 run to take a 51-45 lead on James' three-ball with 14 minutes, 41 seconds to play.
The Wildcats managed to take a pair of one-point leads after that, the final time on Dwayne Anderson's dunk with 10:27 remaining but Acker canned a trey, and James hit back-to-back shots from beyond the arc to put Marquette back in control and on the road to its fifth straight win.
Cunningham had 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the Wildcats. Teammate Corey Stokes, named Big East rookie of the week earlier in the day, added 13 points, and Fisher established a career high with eight assists.
But the Wildcats missed all seven of their three-point tries in the second half and were just 2 of 15 for the game.