by Dan Gardella
New York – It has been said from the get go that Villanova is a multi-headed monster that will kill you with its depth and attitude, something that has been preached in Jay Wright’s program for years. After a convincing win against Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, they faced sixth seeded Butler, a team coming off of a last second upset over Seton Hall in their quarterfinal match-up. The Bulldogs, like Marquette in the quarterfinals, ran into a buzz saw of a Villanova offense as the Wildcats saw all five of their starters score in double figures and handled Butler 87-68 in front of another sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden
From the opening tip, it was Villanova’s game as the hot shooting began from the first Wildcat possession. Villanova won the opening tip off, Jalen Brunson took a few dribbles and dished it to Mikal Bridges who knocked down a three-pointer to open the scoring.
“When Mikal hit that first shot, that’s not what we were looking for right there. But he does have that freedom. And that just set a great tone. Win the tap, throw it up, he hits a three, that’s a nice way to start. I thought it gave everybody confidence.” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
It did indeed set a great tone. In fact, it set an amazing tone. Villanova sank seven of their first eight shots and before Butler could blink, they saw themselves down 19-0 five minutes in.
“I didn’t even notice the score was 19-0. I saw them call timeout, I looked up and noticed what it was. But we were just playing, trying to get stops and kept going and just played defense.” said Villanova guard Phil Booth.
Butler finally cracked the scoring column when Aaron Thompson drain a mid-range jumper to make it 19-2 with 14:32 to play. Villanova would not let their foot off of the gas pedal as they did not let the lead dip below 14 points and took 44-25 lead into the locker room at the half.
Out of the locker room it was more of the same for the Wildcats. For the second straight game, they became hotter than usual midway through the second half to put the game further out of reach. For a seven-minute period, the Wildcats made nine of ten shots from the field including six from behind the three-point line to stretch their lead from 16 to 27.
“They don’t miss. That is what makes them a very difficult challenge is they have a shooter at every position” said Butler head coach LaVall Jordan about Villanova’s almost perfect shooting at times.
Villanova continue to match every point Butler had and came away with the 19-point victory, a margin which LaVall Jordan’s team surrendered in the first five minutes of the contest.
“After the first big run, it was even the after that. If you spot a team like that 16, 19 points, it’s going to be really tough to dig out of that.” said Jordan about the early surge by Villanova.
Although Butler managed to shoot 48% from the field and 35% from three-point range for the game, coach Jay Wright had no problem with his team’s play.
“Our league is the number one offensively efficient league in the country. So even though they shot 48 percent I thought they played pretty well. I thought we eliminated their threes, did a good job on Martin and Baldwin and even still they shot 48 percent” said Wright.
Villanova (29-4) looks ahead to the championship game of the Big East Tournament, their fourth consecutive trip to the finals in the five-year history of the newly configured Big East, tying Pittsburgh (2001-2004) for second most consecutive trips to the championship game. Syracuse (1986-1990) holds the all-time record with 5 straight appearances. They take on Providence, a team with upsets to Creighton and Xavier, both in overtime. While the Friars will enter with tired legs, nothing is changing in Wright’s game plan.
“I think they’ve got veteran players. I think they’ve got depth. I think they’ll be fine that way. We’re more concerned with how good (Kyron) Cartwright is, how well (Jalen) Lindsey shoots the ball, (Rodney) Bullock and how to defend them. And they do a great job defending on us. We have to be able to score on them.” said Wright.
Butler (20-13), who suffered their worst loss of the season Friday night look ahead to Selection Sunday to find out where they will play in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think you look at the guys in the locker room and look at our two senior leaders and I have a lot of faith in this group. I told them in the locker room, I love this group, what we’ve become. I think it’s a group of fighters.” said LaVall Jordan about the state of his team entering the NCAA Tournament.