Butler goes for rare sweep of defending national champs
VILLANOVA, Pa. — Second-ranked Villanova can clinch the Big East regular-season championship with a victory over No. 22 Butler on Wednesday night at The Pavilion.
The Wildcats improved to 26-2 overall and 13-2 in the league after blitzing Seton Hall on the road 92-70 Saturday. Jalen Brunson had 22 points and a career-best 10 assists while Kris Jenkins also scored 22 points as Villanova shot a sizzling 67.3 percent from the field, a season high.
Butler (21-6, 10-5) will be a formidable opponent on the Wildcats’ home floor, where Villanova has won a program-record 48 in a row. The Bulldogs defeated Villanova 66-58 Jan. 4 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, snapping Villanova’s school-record, 20-game win streak.
The home winning streak at The Pavilion began in February 2013, the game after losing 55-52 to Providence.
“We made shots,” Villanova coach Jay Wright told reporters after the 22-point win at Seton Hall. “When you make shots you’re going to win most games. We made some tough shots — it wasn’t their defense. We haven’t shot the ball that well in a while. I think that was a big difference in the game. That was one of our best offensive performances we’ve had this season.”
Villanova won without senior forward Darryl Reynolds, who has been out the last three games with a rib injury. It’s unclear if he’ll be available against Butler as Villanova looks to extend a seven-game winning streak.
That’s what made the road victory more impressive. The Wildcats essentially used a six-man rotation along with deep reserve Dylan Painter, who managed to contribute two points and one rebound in 13 minutes.
Brunson, a sophomore point guard, was a steadying influence on his way to a double-double, the first of his career.
“Jalen just controlled the game,” Wright said. “When he sees that we need scoring from that position, he does that. When he sees we need to get organized, he does it. That’s the beauty of a great point guard. Some guys can score but aren’t as good at running an offense. Or they are good at getting other people shots but not as good at scoring themselves. Jalen does both.”
Butler has already posted its 11th 20-win season in the last 12 years.
In the last matchup against Villanova, Kethan Savage and Andrew Chrabascz paced four Bulldogs in double figures with 13 points each.
On Sunday, Butler defeated St. John’s 82-66 for its second straight win. The balanced Bulldogs were led by Nate Fowler with 15 points and Tyler Lewis with 10 points, eight assists and zero turnovers.
Butler put together consecutive victories for the first time in nearly a month.
“All around us, people said the sky was falling and we were still practicing well,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann told reporters after the win against St. John’s. “That’s a credit to them.”
The Bulldogs have registered five wins over ranked teams this season and now have a rare chance to sweep the defending national champions.