The Villanova Wildcats advanced to a familiar situation on Friday: the Big East championship game. Saturday will mark the fourth year in a row that head coach Jay Wright and his team will play in the final game. They are set to take on Providence after dominating Butler, 87-68.
Villanova Defeats Butler 87-68 to Advance to Fourth Straight Big East Title Game
Mikal Bridges led the way for Villanova with 18 points. Jalen Brunson continued to show why he was the Big East Player of the Year, as he scored 17 points and had three assists. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth also scored in double digits for the Wildcats with 12 and 14 points, respectively.
“That’s the key,” Wright said. “We’re at our best when we have balance.”
Butler was led by Kelan Martin with 13 points and Kamar Baldwin was right behind him with 12. This senior class is looking to become one of three in Butler history to make the tournament all four years.
“We’re looking ahead to the tournament now,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said. “We’re excited to move forward and see what we can do.”
Villanova continues to shoot the lights out
After a Thursday game that saw Villanova shoot 15-29 from three, the Wildcats followed it up with an even better performance. They shot 53.6 percent in the first half, including 6-14 from three and 8-9 from the free throw line. They used those numbers to open up a 44-25 lead at halftime.
Villanova opened the game on a 19-0 run; Butler did not score until more than five minutes into the game. The Wildcats hit seven of their first eight shots to start, which allowed them to build a lead.
“When you spot a team 16-19 points, they’re going to be tough to beat,” Jordan said. “They didn’t miss to start the game.”
Is it no secret that the key to Villanova’s game is the three-point shot. What makes the team so difficult to defend is its ability to move the ball until someone gets an open shot. Being such a deadly shooting team also allows them to be able to penetrate and kick out to shooters.
While Villanova certainly got the better of the Bulldogs, Bridges hinted that it may not have been as easy as the score indicated.
“They’re a mentally tough team,” Bridges said, when asked if Butler got frustrated. “They’re well-coached and they battled the whole game. We had some slip-ups that they took advantage of.”
Omari Spellman provided a big boost down low for the Wildcats. The Big East Freshman of the Year finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds. He can rebound with the best of them and step out to hit jumpers from deep.
The Wildcats played stellar defense throughout the game, putting it away early. As a team, they shot 47.5 percent from the field. Holding Butler to 68 points was another key for Villanova.
“Even though they shot 48 percent, I thought we played well,” Wright said. “We limited their threes and guarded well against Baldwin and Martin. This is the defensive effort we need to have tomorrow.”
Championship game preview
Providence and Villanova were both able to advance on Friday night. They will square off Saturday to see who will walk away kings of the Big East. Villanova is 8-1 all-time against Providence in the Big East Tournament. The fourth straight final for the Wildcats ties them with Pitt for second on the list. Syracuse is at the top with five straight appearances.
The Wildcats handled Providence in their first meeting in Philadelphia, 89-69. The Friars would get revenge on their home court the next time and take a 76-71 victory. Villanova entered this tournament as the two seed while Providence came in as the five and won two games against higher seeds.
“We’re more concerned about how to stop them. [Kyron] Cartwright and [Jalen] Lindsey are tough to guard,” Wright said. “They defend really well and they know how to defend us.”
When the Wildcats are shooting the way they have through the first two games, they are almost impossible to beat. They have five players who can shoot the ball on the court at all times. Not to mention they have two National Player of the Year candidates in Bridges and Brunson.
For Providence to pull off a second straight upset, it will need great guard play led by Kyron Cartwright. The senior, who led them to a win against Xavier, will have to bring his best game for the Friars.
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