Butler seeks first-ever win over undefeated and No. 1 Villanova

Kelan Martin (left) and Andrew Chrabascz will try to help the Bulldogs knock off undefeated Villanova.
AP

After capturing the national title last season, Villanova has shown no evidence of a letup.

The No. 1 Wildcats are unbeaten (14-0, 2-0 Big East) heading into Wednesday’s game at No. 18 Butler (12-2, 1-1 Big East) at 6:30 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

“They’re so good and so tough,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “They’re tough physically. Their mindset and their approach is really second to none. I don’t think there is a team in the country that possesses that game in and game out.”

Villanova is 7-0 all-time against Butler. The Wildcats beat the Bulldogs in 1996 in a tournament in Puerto Rico and then have swept all six games in Big East Conference play the past three seasons.

“We have the utmost respect for how they play and the way they play,” Holtmann said. “They have terrific players and (coach) Jay (Wright) obviously does a great job.”

Butler is 8-0 at home this season, including a 10-point win over Cincinnati, which is ranked No. 22 this week.

Bulldogs senior Avery Woodson, a graduate transfer from Memphis, said the Bulldogs will be ready for Villanova.

“This conference is tough whether it’s Villanova next or Georgetown, it’s a test,” Woodson said. “They just so happen to be the No. 1 team and the next on our schedule so we’ll prepare like we always do.”

Holtmann said his team had better preparation in Sunday’s 78-61 victory over visiting Providence than it did in its 76-73 loss on Dec. 29 at St. John’s.

“If we didn’t learn from that loss, shame on us,” Holtmann said.

Holtmann said his players took an immature approach to the conference opener. Butler is now 19-3 following a loss under Holtmann.

This is Butler’s seventh meeting with a team ranked No. 1. The Bulldogs are 1-5, beating No. 1 Indiana in the 2012 Crossroads Classic.

The Bulldogs have won 11 straight games at home, including all eight this season.

Villanova was tied at 66-all at No. 10 Creighton on Saturday before closing with a 14-4 spurt to win 80-70.

Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson scored a career-high 27 points against Creighton and was named Big East Player of the Week.

“We know against the best teams, it’s about being solid and playing Villanova basketball,” senior Josh Hart said. “We knew when they tied it we had to come closer together. We stuck to playing Villanova basketball.”

Hart owns a team-high scoring average of 20.3 points, pacing four Wildcats in double figures. Brunson averages 13.9 points, followed by forward Kris Jenkins at 13.4 points and sophomore guard/forward Mikal Bridges at 10.0. Hart, Jenkins and Brunson started last season.

“We feel pretty good about where we are right now,” Wright said. “Not as much because of the No. 1 ranking, but we feel like we’re progressing. The young guys are developing.”

Wright likes the development of key reserves — freshman Donte DiVincenzo and sophomore Eric Paschall.

“Mikal Bridges, a starter, is really playing well,” Wright said. “Jalen in his sophomore year has given us a great lift. All of those guys have made substantial strides.”

The Wildcats, who are shooting 50.4 percent as a team, have shot 50 percent or better from the field in seven of their last eight games.

Butler is shooting 49.9 percent as a team. Junior forward Kelan Martin leads the Bulldogs with an 18.1 scoring average.