Led by a tough defensive effort against a gritty Butler Bulldogs team, the Villanova Wildcats pulled off a great win in a top 15-ranked showdown to move to 5-1 in conference play. All five starters were in double figures scoring, which was telling of the game as a whole, as everyone did their part to ensure the victory.
Villanova plays Providence next on the road this Saturday at noon ET.
This was a big one not only for Villanova Basketball, but for the Big East as a whole. Before the game, Butler sat one game behind the ‘Cats and looking to bounce back after back-to-back losses that knocked them out of the AP top 5. Villanova, on the other hand, was looking to extend their winning streak and keep the momentum they’ve built going.
At tip-off we saw the familiar lineup of Gillespie, Swider, Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Saddiq Bey, while Butler sported the gritty lineup of Aaron Thompson, Kamar Baldwin, Bryce Nze, Sean McDermott, and Bryce Golden. After Nova won the tip off, it didn’t take long to see this was going to be a tough night after Bey missed an open layup and Golden bullied Swider twice. After JRE started off Nova’s scoring with a tip in, Jay made the quick switch after realizing they’d just attack that matchup all night.
Out of the timeout, some nice passing gave JRE a wide open 3 which bricked, opening up Thompson for a 3 of his own that saw nothing but net. Nothing seemed to be falling for Villanova despite getting good looks as they opened the night 1 for 11. Sadiqq Bey ended that drought with a quick trigger 3 that caught the Bulldogs sleeping and put the ‘Cats within 3. A few bricks by Butler and a JRE 3 got the game knotted up at 8. At this point it became clear that the ‘Cats had been instructed to deny middle at all costs. Butler took a timeout following a Crosby-Rountree layup.
Out of the timeout looked like the same thing for Villanova defensively with denying middle, but they seemed to be doubling if the offensive player’s 3 seconds are up as opposed to leaving him alone. Offensively the message seemed to be use dribble handoffs to get a good matchup and drive. Samuels got inside pretty easily off two mismatches and made butler pay both times as Nova lead 14-11. Butler continued to struggle shooting as they pounded the ball inside, this time leading to an and-one putting the ‘Cats up 17-11.
Despite a good press and Butler looking rattled, they still got a 3 to go down, but Nova looked confident they could lock down this strong Butler team. Jay switched up the press and opted for a 1-1-3 instead of his patented 1-2-2 to give them a different look, but it ultimately failed and he turned it off. JRE continued to rule the glass as he grabbed his 6th rebound of the night and kicked it out for a Bey 3. Villanova then called its first timeout after Nze got to the bucket a little too easily and Jay decided to talk it over while they lead 27-22. After a great defensive possession, a Justin Moore long 2 got some momentul back that seemed to be slipping with another easy bucket with 3:27 to go.
Samuels came out of the media timeout guns blazing with a great defensive effort, offensive rebound, and wet 3 pointer. He picked up a foul on another drive and put the ‘Cats up 33-26. Butler continued to struggle missing 2 point blank shots while Gillespie cooked his man for a killer 3, sending the ‘Cats to the locker room up 36-26.
Bey opened up the half with a quick 3 and got the ball rolling for the ‘Cats. The following possession he sunk a 3 while getting fouled, putting the ‘Cats up 43-26 early. They seemed to be taking lots of quick shots to catch Butler napping, which worked for a few minutes but was eventually stifled by the Bulldogs. The ‘Cats responded by using Bey’s size advantage on a few switches that just didn’t fall, while Butler countered with some truly unstoppable shots to cut the lead to 11. Collin Gillespie stopped the run with a nice layup inside and JRE still dominated on the glass.
With Cole Swider only on his 8th minute, he seemed to be playing a small roll in this Bulldog run as they could continuously exploit him as a mismatch. However, Villanova’s good shooting and good defense as a team was keeping the Bulldogs in check and their lead at 10. The second half proved difficult shooting at the start with Villanova shooting 33%, and Butler shooting 69% didn’t help much. With 11:15 to go Nova’s lead was cut to 4.
Off the inbound play, Gillespie got a key and-one to put the ‘Cats up 7 as the Pavilion was still rocking midway through the second half. Very quickly, Butler’s aggressiveness got them in foul trouble as Villanova moved into the bonus with 10 to go. After some back and forth with both teams playing stifling defense, Justin Moore finally got things going again with a 3 that put the Wildcats up 11.
Up by nine with seven minutes to go, Butler seemed to want to run in transition, so Jay had fewer guys crashing the glass. Butler was still finding ways to get open shots despite this but just couldn’t knock them down. With Butler still playing aggressive, it started to stifle their offense as buckets would be voided and opportunities lost while also putting Nova on the line. With 5:11 to go, the Wildcats hit the double bonus and shot 2 every foul.
As the game entered its final phase, Butler was making more and more mistakes while Villanova was capitalizing on them. The Bulldogs went through a 4 minute long drought before getting a breakaway dunk. Justin Moore cooked his man and Butler as they had seen enough of this Villanova run putting them up 14 with 2:28 to go. Butler moved to their press and we got to see how Jay learned from some rocky finishes. Only one turnover to full court pressure is a drastic improvement and put the crowd at ease seeing that they finally were able to get the ball in at the end of the game.
This is a very impressive win for the ‘Cats. Their stifling defense led the way as it compensated for them shooting 36% from the field. They were getting good looks and were making the right adjustments to combat a tough Butler team. Their inbounding at the end of the game seemed to improve and things look promising for Nova Basketball.