Villanova’s outstanding 3-point shooting has helped it take aim at another Big East title, but its league-best defense is bracing for what should be a stiff test against the conference’s top scorer.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats will try to increase their conference lead with a ninth straight win Tuesday night against LaDontae Henton and No. 25 Providence, who look to end the Wildcats’ 25-game run at the Pavilion.
Villanova (25-2, 12-2) leads the Big East with 230 made 3-pointers and a 38.1 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, and it has been one of the most dangerous perimeter teams in the nation in February.
The Wildcats rank in the country’s top three with 65 3s on 45.1 percent shooting in six games this month.
Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis each knocked down three 3-pointers as Villanova made at least 11 for the fifth time in six games en route to Saturday’s 87-76 victory at Marquette.
Hilliard is tied for the lead with 40 3s in Big East games and is averaging 22.0 points while going 15 for 27 from deep in his last three. Arcidiacono is shooting a conference-best 47.1 percent from 3-point range in league games.
Villanova owns a 2 1/2-game advantage over Georgetown and three-game edge over No. 23 Butler and Providence (19-8, 9-5) with four remaining.
The Wildcats are trying to win consecutive outright league titles for the first time in the 34-year history of the Big East.
They’ve given up a conference-low 60.8 points per game on 40.3 percent shooting, an effort they hope to continue against a Providence team that is back in the Top 25 for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
"This is a really good team," coach Jay Wright told the school’s official website. "It’s going to be a heck of a game."
Henton is a big reason why Providence is back in the poll, averaging a conference-best 21.1 points in Big East play. The senior forward scored 22 on Wednesday as the Friars won their second straight, 84-57 at DePaul.
Henton had 23 points and Kris Dunn added 17 in a 74-68 home loss to Villanova on Feb. 11. Dunn has averaged 19.1 points and hit 41.2 percent from 3-point range in his last 12 games.
"We’re playing arguably two of the best players in our league," Wright said. "These are two candidates for (Big East) player of the year. We did a good job on Henton early but then he got away from us in the second half. If that game would have gone on four or five more minutes, I’m afraid he would have exploded."
Providence is playing better defensively, holding its last two opponents to 35.3 percent shooting while forcing an average of 17.5 turnovers after Villanova shot 50.0 percent.
The Friars did a solid job against Hilliard, who had 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Arcidiacono, however, scored 20 with three 3s and reserve Daniel Ochefu added 19 points and nine rebounds while going 7 for 7 from the field.
Providence, which lost 91-61 at Villanova last season, snapped a 31-game road losing streak against ranked opponents with a 74-71 win over then-No. 24 Georgetown on Feb. 4.