Big East Tournament

Villanova survives 1 final test ahead of Big Dance

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Villanova survives 1 final test ahead of Big Dance

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NEW YORK — Mikal Bridges scored 25 points and hit two 3-pointers in overtime to lift No. 2 Villanova to a 76-66 win over Providence in the Big East Tournament championship game Saturday night.

The Wildcats (30-4) won their second straight Big East Tournament and third in four years (losing in the 2016 final). They put the bow on a fantastic season that should have them earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova had rolled to a pair of dominant victories in the tourney and held off a pesky Providence team that played its third straight overtime game.

The fifth-seeded Friars (21-13) rallied in the second half from yet another double-digit hole and seemed set to pull off one more upset and earn the automatic NCAA berth. Providence erased a 17-point hole in the second half to beat top-seeded Xavier to reach the final. With one stunning rally on its resume, Providence nearly made it two.

Kyron Cartwright hit a jumper with 1:38 left that tied the game at 58-all and Alpha Diallo scored on a driving layup with 40 seconds left for a 60-58 lead.

Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson tied it for Villanova with two free throws.

Providence missed a last-gasp shot at the buzzer and played in its third straight overtime game.

The Friars ran out of gas in OT. Bridges, who scored 25 points, opened overtime with a 3 and hit another that helped stretch the lead for good. Brunson tied a career-high with 31 points on an emphatic dunk that sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy.

Brunson proved his worth as the best in the conference. He hit four 3s and made 12 of 23 overall from the floor, showing on the national stage why he's a candidate for national player of the year.

Providence coach Ed Cooley may have split his pants as he coached the second half with a towel tucked in his waist.

It almost worked as a rally towel.

Cartwright put Providence's comeback in overdrive when he hit a 3 that made it 51-46 and had Cooley smiling and clapping on the sideline. He loved it even more when Cartwright came right back and hit another 3 to pulled the Friars within two.

Drew Edwards flexed his biceps when he was fouled on a tying basket and had the crowd chanting "Let's Go Friars!" headed into a timeout. He sank the free to give Providence its first lead of the game, 52-51.

The Wildcats snatched the lead back and Bridges buried a 3 from the top of the arc that sent the team to their feet. Brunson was whistled next time down for an offensive foul and coach Jay Wright twirled and stretched his arms toward the sky in protest. Eric Paschall hit a floater in the lane that seemed to steady the Wildcats.

Providence just kept on coming. The Friars had defeated three top-five teams this season and was soaring following two straight overtime victories over Creighton and the Musketeers to reach the final.

Diallo led with 22 points and Cartwright scored 19 for Providence.

Villanova makes it look easy at MSG

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Villanova makes it look easy at MSG

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NEW YORK -- Phil Booth insisted he was so focused on defense and finding open teammates that he never glanced at the scoreboard.

"I didn't even notice the score was 19-0," he said.

Villanova was rolling, and if a game can be over in the opening 5 minutes, this was the one.

The second-ranked Villanova scored the first 19 points and cruised toward its fourth straight trip in the Big East Tournament championship game in an 87-68 win over Butler on Friday night.

About 30 minutes after top-seeded Xavier was upset by Providence in overtime, the Wildcats (29-4) hit the court and showed how a favorite should play in a tournament semifinal.

Mikal Bridges hit a 3-pointer five seconds into the game and the Wildcats used near-perfect execution on a 16-0 run before Butler coach LaVall Jordan finally called a timeout at the 15:37 mark. He could have waved a white flag to signal for the TO.

Omari Spellman buried a 3 to make it 19-0 and the Wildcats proved why the Big East tournament title always goes through the Main Line and straight to Madison Square Garden. Butler finally scored and heard some mock cheers for the jumper.

"Spot a team like that 16, 19 points, it's going to be really, really tough to dig out," Jordan said.

The Bulldogs failed to find an offensive excavator.

Hey, at least the Bulldogs (20-13) were only down 17 after their first bucket.

Butler called a 30-second timeout with 11:35 left in the second half and trailed by 25 points. Yes, this was a tournament semifinal game.

The Wildcats hit 10 of their first 12 shots that made for an anticlimactic final 35 minutes at the Garden. Providence had rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and stunned top-seeded and No. 3 Xavier 75-72 in the first conference semifinal that had MSG rocking.

This seemed like a tune-up for a coronation.

Bridges had 18, Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson scored 17 points and Spellman had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Under coach Jay Wright, Villanova won the tournament in 2015 and 2017 and lost to Seton Hall in 2016. The four straight Big East title games are one shy of Syracuse's record five straight from 1986-1990.

"I think we feel like we're a new team rather than a team that's stale at the end of the year," Wright said.

The Wildcats did split two games against Providence but the Friars are coming off overtime games on consecutive nights and will be a heavy underdog.

Villanova vs. Xavier -- the No. 2 and 3 teams in the AP Top 25 -- had been an anticipated final. The Wildcats lost the outright regular-season title even though it beat the Musketeers twice.

The sixth-seeded Bulldogs stunned third-seeded Seton Hall 75-74 for its first career Big East Tournament victory and a win over the Wildcats on Dec. 30 made it seem like this should have been competitive.

Instead, Kelan Martin, who averaged 21.1 points, scored just four for the Bulldogs in the first half. He finished with 12.

"They had a great game plan for me. Sometimes, you just can't beat it," Martin said.

The Wildcats improved to 14-0 when holding opponents under 70 points.

"That was one of our best defensive performances," Wright said.

The Wildcats hit six 3s, including Booth's at the buzzer, to send them into the break ahead 44-25. Told Villanova could put probably four 3-point shooters on the court, Jordan cracked, "seemed like six."

Big picture
Butler: The Bulldogs are still in good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid and should be in the mix for No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Butler has lost three of four games.

"We'll be fine," Martin said. "We've got something to play for."

Villanova: The Wildcats have won six of seven games and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have won 10 of 11 Big East Tournament games.

Up next
Butler: Butler waits to find out its NCAA Tournament fate

Villanova: The Wildcats beat the Friars 89-69 on Jan. 23 and lost at Providence 76-71 on Feb. 14.

Jay Wright breaks 57-year-old Villanova record

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Jay Wright breaks 57-year-old Villanova record

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NEW YORK — Jay Wright was raised on 1980s Big East basketball. He loves the big games that always made this time of the year special at Madison Square Garden with powerhouses like Georgetown, Syracuse and St. John's leading the charge.

Wright knows greed and defections means those days are long gone.

But here's what Wright understands, as well: this reinvented Big East is pretty good at making its own memorable March memories.

Wright became the winningest coach in Villanova history with 414, and the No. 2 Wildcats opened defense of their Big East Tournament championship in a 94-70 win over Marquette on Thursday night.

Wright improved to 414-165 since he took the job in 2001 and has led the Wildcats to the 2009 Final Four and 2016 national championship. He was tied with Al Severance, who went 413-201 from 1936-1961.

He's alone atop the record book — and should put the total far out of reach.

"I'm mostly proud to be the coach of Villanova, honestly," Wright said. "The wins and everything don't matter. I know I'll look back on it later."

Take a look at what's happening now — the Wildcats (28-4) took control in the second half and showed why their third tournament title in four years is within reach. Mikal Bridges hit four 3s and scored 25 points and Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson scored 21. The Wildcats made 15 of 29 3s — a stunning 11 of 17 in the second half.

Villanova is the No. 2 team in the AP Top 25 — and the tournament. Xavier won the Big East and earned the top seed even though it lost twice this season to the Wildcats.

They seem poised to make it a trilogy in Saturday's final.

"This is pretty cool," Wright said. "I'm excited where this league is right now."

Fresh off a blowout loss, even Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski had to admit the fact that Xavier and Villanova could both earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament was a boon for the league.

"Both teams have a great chance to win the national championship," he said.

The Wildcats blew this game open early in the second half against the seventh-seeded Golden Eagles (19-13). Brunson hit a 3 to open a 10-point lead and Booth nailed one to make it a 15-point game.

Then the Wildcats just got 3-point silly: Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman, Brunson, Spellman again and Bridges all hit 3s on six straight scores to turn this into a rout and break out the "Let's Go Nova!" chants.

"After the game, everyone was talking about shooting," Brunson said. "Now that I look back at it, yeah, we were really shooting well, but that was the last thing on my mind. We really were just trying to focus on defending and rebounding and playing for each other."

Markus Howard scored 23 points and Andrew Rowsey had 22 for Marquette. Rowsey had tears running down his cheeks as he sat on the bench in the final minutes.

The Wildcats missed eight of their first 10 3-point attempts before they decided to attack the lane for easy buckets and get the juice going in their offense. Donte DiVincenzo hit a 3 and Bridges converted a four-point play for a five-point lead. Bridges was also fouled on a tough basket underneath for a three-point play. He scored 16 points in the half and flashed the skills that made him an All-Big East pick.

The Golden Eagles, who needed the win to stay in NCAA Tournament contention, were a two-shooter show. Howard and Rowsey combined for seven 3s and 24 of Marquette's 34 points. Howard and Rowsey would fire off 3s from about any spot on the court — and made just about all of them.

Then they became the latest team to run into the Villanova buzzsaw.

Big picture
Marquette: The Golden Eagles were doomed by a four-game losing streak in a six of eight streak that knocked them out of NCAA contention.

"I think our team is capable of winning games in the NCAA Tournament," Wojciechowski said.

Villanova: Wright led the Wildcats, who won the 1985 national title under his mentor Rollie Massimino, to their greatest run of success in program history. They've won at least 32 games each of the previous three seasons and he's led them to the NCAAs all but one year (2012) since 2005. Hired in 2001 to replace Steve Lappas, Wright took the Wildcats to unprecedented success

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Marquette will likely miss the NCAA Tournament and hope for a second-tier postseason bid.

The Wildcats swept Seton Hall and went 1-1 vs. Butler.