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No. 2 Baylor shuts down No. 6 Villanova, 57-36

The Bears clamped the ‘Cats and should be the clear-cut No. 1-ranked team in the next AP poll.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s showdown between No. 2 Baylor and No. 6 Villanova, a rematch of last season’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 clash, yielded a similar result.

It wasn’t a sweet ending for the ‘Cats, who struggled to muster an answer for the Bears’ length and overwhelming defense. Undefeated Baylor prevailed, 57-36, solidifying its spot as the new No. 1 team come Monday’s AP poll.

“Baylor is an outstanding defensive team, as physical, tough and quick as anybody we’ve played against and obviously, we really struggled scoring,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I give them credit for that, they did a good job. We didn’t do a bad job defensively, we just couldn’t score. They were just in us, physical, athletic, and quick, and we really struggled with it.”

Gone are last year’s catalysts in Baylor’s national championship run — Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Jared Butler — but the new-look Bears have proven to be just as dangerous and tenacious on both ends of the court. After Sunday’s game, maybe even more so than last year.

“Those guards were great, but (Jonathan) Tchamwa Tchatchoua and (Flo) Thamba, those two defensively and their ability to guard the perimeter, guard inside, and rebound the ball really makes this team great,” said Wright, who mentioned this year’s Baylor team could be as good as last year, while highlighting Baylor’s bigs with 7-foot-plus wingspans. “They lost great guards, but they replenished their guards, but those big guys — and I count (Matthew) Mayer as one of those guys too. Those three bigs can guard anybody on the perimeter, Collin and Justin, and in the post. That’s the basis of their defense, those guys are back and they’re better than last year.”

Baylor set the tone from opening tip, locking down on Villanova. They limited the ‘Cats to just nine points through the first 17 minutes of action. The Wildcats went on a late 6-0 run to close the first half, trimming the deficit down to 10 at the break.

Baylor led at the break, 25-15. That 15-point mark was tied for the fewest amount of first-half points scored by Villanova under Jay Wright, and it was the first time the Wildcats had been held to that number in a decade.

After the break, Baylor’s intense defensive effort persisted, but the ‘Cats managed to cut the game down to single digits a couple of times.

Caleb Daniels buried a three-pointer to make it a 31-22 game with 13:23 left — the closest the ‘Cats would get to catching the Bears.

Villanova followed up with a six-minute long scoring drought, and Baylor started pulling away for good.

“They did a good job of softening ball screens and recovering, and they make you guess a little bit, even when you’re open or not,” Villanova guard Collin Gillespie said. “They did a good job of covering guys who were trying to shoot.”

The Bears pushed their lead into the 20s in the closing minutes and despite being comfortably ahead, they never took it easy on the defensive end.

The ‘Cats finished with 36 points and shot 22.2% for the entire game — both program-lows for a Jay Wright-led Villanova team.

Villanova did play solid defense on one of the top offensive teams in college basketball, holding the Bears to shooting just 25.0% from deep and limiting leading scorers L.J. Cryer and Kendall Brown to just a combined 12 points, but they never got going offensively.

Justin Moore had a team-high 15 points and six rebounds. Collin Gillespie and Caleb Daniels had identical stat lines with six points (both shot 2-of-7), five boards and three turnovers apiece. As a team, the ‘Cats turned the ball over 13 times.

For Baylor, James Akinjo had a game-high 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Adam Flagler added 10 points and five assists. Jeremy Sochan had nine points and 10 rebounds. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua chipped in seven points and nine boards.

With the loss, Villanova drops to 7-3. It will try to bounce back when it opens conference play on the road against Creighton. The Wildcats will head to Omaha for a Friday night 8 p.m. ET tip-off against the Bluejays.