by John Fanta
CINCINNATI — For the first time in five years, it felt like a changing of the guard could happen in the BIG EAST regular season championship race. When it was all said and done on Saturday, though, the kings of the conference reestablished order.
#3 Villanova returned to form, commanding #4 Xavier, 95-79 to sweep the season series and even up the Musketeers in the loss column in BIG EAST play. The Wildcats’ offense was back to being a machine after a 19-turnover, 9-assist performance in Wednesday’s loss at Providence. On Saturday afternoon, Xavier had no answer, as Jay Wright’s team hit 16 three’s and shot 60 percent from the field.
“If they shoot the ball the way they did today, it will take a monumental effort to beat them,” said Xavier head coach Chris Mack.
For Wright, a road win in front of nearly 11,000 fans after a tough defeat at Providence produced the most telling week of the season for Nova.
“I’m really proud of this group,” said Wright, whose team moved to 24-3 overall and 11-3 in the BIG EAST. “We stayed composed. You knew Xavier was going to make a run, but we never wavered.”
The Wildcats led by as many as 19 in the first half, and carried a 51-37 advantage into the locker room.
“It was all about finding each other,” said the Wildcats’ Mikal Bridges, who scored 25 points. He wasn’t kidding. Villanova dished out 25 assists, with National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson putting up eight of his own.
Meanwhile, sophomore Donte DiVincenzo tallied 21 points, nine assists, and nine boards for the near triple-double.
“He gets better and better every single day,” said Wright. “He’s so coachable. When you tell him to improve on something, he listens and does it. That’s not easy for a young person to do.”
DiVincenzo was one of six Wildcats in double-figures.
Villanova returns to action Wednesday against DePaul, when star guard Phil Booth could return from a hand injury. Xavier visits Georgetown Wednesday.