Wildcats are looking like champions once again
new york — This time, Villanova is going into the NCAAs with a conference tournament title and probably the No. 1 overall seed.
The second-ranked Wildcats will find out Sunday when and where their national championship defense will begin. On Saturday, they showed that when they play their preferred style they are very tough to beat.
Josh Hart (Sidwell Friends) scored 29 points to lead Villanova to a 74-60 victory over Creighton in the Big East championship game at Madison Square Garden.
“We wanted to set the tone,” said Hart, a senior guard. “We wanted to play 40 minutes of Villanova basketball.”
Good defense, sharing the ball and making three-pointers is the formula that has led top-seeded Villanova (31-3) to four consecutive Big East regular season titles.
“We might have played our best defensive game of the year,” Coach Jay Wright said.
Hart, the conference player of the year, became just the third player to win the tournament MVP award twice, joining Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and Peyton Siva of Louisville.
Hart and fellow seniors Kris Jenkins (Gonzaga) and Darryl Reynolds have posted a record of 128-16 in their four seasons.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how well that Kris and Josh and Darryl, what great ambassadors they’ve been for the Big East Conference,” Creighton Coach Greg McDermott said.
“The Villanova program in general, for a basketball purist like myself, the way they won it last year, team basketball, and just the way they carry themselves.”
This was Villanova’s third Big East tournament crown, the others coming in 1995 and 2015.
When asked if Villanova would get the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, Wright responded: “Probably. But we don’t really care . . . . We’re going to be fine. We’re going to be fine. Wherever they put us, whatever our seed is.”
The Wildcats had their hands on so many Creighton passes, they forced a season-high 17 turnovers that led to 21 points. And with Hart leading the way, they made every big shot they needed.
Jalen Brunson added 17 points for Villanova. Jenkins, whose three-pointer won the national championship game against North Carolina last year, had 14.
Cole Huff and Marcus Foster each scored 13 points to lead the sixth-seeded Bluejays (25-9).
Villanova, which lost last season’s Big East championship game to Seton Hall, closed the first half on a 25-11 run to go up 36-22. Hart had 12 points in the spurt and Brunson added eight. The two combined to score the Wildcats’ final 20 points in the semifinals.
The lead reached 46-26, and the closest the Bluejays got the rest of the way was 12 points.
Hart, who along with Brunson defended Foster, scored every way imaginable, from threepointers to acrobatic drives.