Hilliard, the Wildcats' third-leading scorer with an 11.5-point average, must be a factor at both ends Wednesday night when his team opens what it hopes will be a long run in the Big East Conference tournament with a second-round game against St. John's at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Playing better defense is quite an achievement for Hilliard, who said, "I played no defense in high school" at Liberty in Bethlehem, where he was a two-time all-state player who scored 1,413 career points. He led 'Nova in steals during the regular season with an average of 1.6.
Wright likes what he has seen.
"He's very underrated," the coach said. "He made a great commitment. A lot of the games that we've won, he's guarded the best guard on the other team. That's why he's such a key for us. I think you're seeing our team grow as he grows."
With growth, of course, comes some inconsistency. Hilliard had an eight-game stretch in the middle of the Big East season during which he averaged 16.1 points and shot 52 percent from the field, 45 percent from beyond the arc, and 82 percent from the line.
He cooled off a little in his last seven games (11.0 points, 38 percent shooting from the floor). But he likes the faith Wright has shown by starting him in all 31 games through an up-and-down season.
"Just having that kind of responsibility means I've got to bring it every day - practice, games, off the court," he said. "I've got to be kind of a leader, do my best on and off the court. Playing those minutes, I have to be a role model to the younger guys and keep getting better."
Hilliard and Villanova's young players are entering uncharted waters this week. Only three Wildcats played in the team's last NCAA game in 2011, and the Cats sure could use a win over the Red Storm to further enhance their chance for an NCAA bid.
"We're all kind of new to this," Hilliard said. "We've had blind faith in Coach Wright and the coaching staff and knowing they're leading us in the right direction. We've got to keep pushing forward. We have to bring that Villanova attitude to the Garden and play hard."
Contact Joe Juliano at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.