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Behind Jenkins' bench presence and Villanova's balance, Wildcats crack Butler, 67-55

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

RADNOR -- The culmination of Kris Jenkins' career at Villanova, from the eyes of the coaching staff, usually centered around his weight. It was a constant struggle, but one he overcame this season with the Wildcats, dropping nearly 50 pounds over a season and a half.

And when Villanova was desperately attempting to pull away from unranked Butler at the start of the second half, it was Jenkins who sparked a series of runs that cushioned the 'Cats lead. The weight was back on him. And it was another chance to get a brief look at the Wildcats future with him at the helm.

Jenkins produced one of the best performances of his short career with the Wildcats, dropping 11 points in 16 minutes on five shots against one of the nation's toughest defensive sides. His intensity was tangible as Villanova marched to a 12-point win over Butler, 67-55, on New Year's Eve in front of a sold out crowd at the Pavilion.

He was the motor the team needed rotating players around to replace early second half offensive woes. Jenkins was one of three players with an offensive rebound against Butler's stingy interior and for the tenth time in 47 contests, he's scored in double-digits.

And to Wright, Jenkins is as important as any starter. Against a gritty Butler defense and with Darrun Hilliard back for the first time with a concussion, they needed a spark from somewhere.

"He's very important to us, he was in there, he was a big body in the post," Wright said during his post game press conference. "We played him at the three for a while and that's the beauty of him. However you want to describe Butler, they play big. So we played him there because we needed rebounding. He did a great job. Not just his scoring. He had a big steal in the first half. He did a lot of good things for us [today] and his three point shooting has been really consistent."

No. 6 Villanova (13-0) tied the best start in the university's history for the basketball program after dropping Butler (10-4) to start Big East play.

Villanova produced four players in double-digit scoring figures. Daniel Ochefu finished with 10 points and nine rebounds and five blocks while Ryan Arcidiacono led all scorers with 15 points. JayVaughn Pinkston finished with 13 and Jenkins was big for the Wildcats from the bench. After a first half that only combined to produce 68 points between the teams, the Wildcats opened the half on a 7-0 swing, courtesy of Hilliard.

The balance of the Wildcats continues to put away tough opponents, whether it be at the Pavilion or in different venues countrywide. And it's that consistent quality of the Wildcats that Butler interim head coach Chris Holtmann said that makes Villanova one of the nation's elite programs.

"I give our guys credit that we were able to stay within reach," Holtmann said. "But we certainly need to do some things better to win on the road against an elite team, and that's exactly what Villanova is, one of the better in the country."

The 'Cats defense swarmed one of the nation's superior defensive clubs in Butler forcing abysmal shooting days for Kellen Dunham (4-for-10 FG, 0-for-2 3PT) and Roosevelt Jones (4-for-15 FG) and continuously keeping the pressure on the Bulldogs in the first half with the 1-2-2 trap defense before switching to a man-to-man set in the second half.

Wright said that he doesn't have to get on the team negatively during the switches in halves if they've played poorly. He leaves it to his veteran group to get on each other. They make the corrections and everything begins to gel in the second half.

Pinkston made it clear that no matter Villanova's record, it's always another game to look forward too. The club always stays focused.

"It means a lot but we just can't get complacent," Pinkston said. "We are 13-0. We have to keep getting better each and every day and keep going to practice with an open mind. [We don't get complacent] By being open to coaching, getting better each and every day and feeding off each other."

And to open Big East play against a tough Butler team that Wright has a lot of respect for, two words described his ebullience on getting a win at home in front of a packed house.

"Hell yeah," Wright exclaimed about getting the win over Butler and if it made him cheerful. "These guys are tough man. They're going to be good in our league. This is a good team. I feel good about this, I told our team that. It wasn't pretty. We missed free throws. We missed open shots. You look ugly and they look good. And if you can find a way to win when you look ugly and they look good? You've got a good team. That's what I feel good about."

'Cat Claws

  • It was the 153rd consecutive regular season sellout at the Pavilion, a record that dates back to January 2001
  • Villanova had 16 assists on 22 made shots
  • Villanova, a team taller than Butler by size, got out rebounded by the Bulldogs 40-29, 17-3 on the offensive glass
  • Villanova shot poorly from three (5-for-20 overall, 25%) and from the line (16-for-26 overall, 61.5%)
  • As previously stated this season, Arcidiacono said the team doesn't focus on last year's Sterling Gibbs' buzzer beater that ended Villanova's Big East Tournament hopes last season: "we are a completely different team and we have to go with an open mindset up to Seton Hall."
  • Wright kept emphasizing that the team "had to get to work" before their matchup with Seton Hall but admitted that "I've probably seen everyone else in the league but haven't seen them"
  • Seton Hall fans reportedly chanted "We want Nova" following their upset of No. 15 St. John's, in response Arcidiacono laughed and said: "We try to say 94x50 feet on the court. We just try to stick together no matter where we are. As one team, as one unit."