A pair of three-point wins have kept Villanova’s Big East conference title hopes alive.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats could have an easier time Wednesday night at home against a Butler team that’s experiencing its worst losing streak in nearly a quarter century.
Villanova (24-3, 12-2) put itself in position to match Creighton for the conference lead with Saturday’s 57-54 home win over St. John’s. The Wildcats shot 39.2 percent but held the Red Storm to 32.2.
"It’s just what we do. We prepare for (games like) this every day in practice," said guard Darrun Hilliard, who led all scorers with 18 points. "We don’t prepare for coming out one night and making every shot we put up, we prepare for the most difficult situations.
"That’s the type of game we get up for, not making shots. St. John’s is a great team and we just kept getting stops down the stretch. That’s the type of game we want."
They got that type of game four days before as well with an 82-79 double-overtime win at Providence. Guard Ryan Arcidiacono converted a 3-point play in the final seconds of that game before banking in a late 3 against St. John’s to break a 50-all tie. The ugly play was a fitting turning point in what coach Jay Wright deemed a vintage Big East battle.
"That was old-school, Big East basketball," Wright said. "Ugly. Great defense. Physical. You had to be physically and mentally tough to play that game. It was the Big East. I’m glad to see our conference at that level. It was just the kind of game in the ’80s when I was an assistant here."
The Wildcats had a similarly close game when they opened Big East play Dec. 31 with a 76-73 overtime win at Butler. Villanova forward JayVaughn Pinkston and Butler guard Kellen Dunham each scored 22 points.
"That was a very tough game for us," said Wright, whose team has only lost to teams currently ranked in the top 10. "We have great respect for how hard Butler plays. I think their style serves them well on the road."
But things have changed quite a bit since then for the Bulldogs (12-15, 2-13).
After opening the season 10-2, Butler has tanked in conference play, and its six-game skid is the program’s longest since dropping 11 in a row in 1989-90.
Sunday’s 87-81 home loss to Providence featured perhaps the Bulldogs’ worst defensive effort of the season as the Friars shot 66.7 percent and connected on 13 of 20 3-pointers.
Still, Butler rallied from 13 down at halftime to grab the lead in the second half.
"I’m extremely proud of our guys in terms of the way they battled back in the second half, eventually taking the lead," coach Brandon Miller told Butler’s official website. "We fought every second of the way. We battled. Unfortunately, we didn’t play smart enough at the end of that game to come out on top."
Dunham, tops on the Bulldogs with 16.9 points per game, scored 25 while forward Khyle Marshall added 22.
Butler is 0-4 against the Top 25, but three of those losses have been decided by five points or less.