The Wildcats (22-8, 13-4 Big East) could still win at least a share of the conference crown in a season where they have as many losses as the last two years combined. Villanova tumbled out of the AP Top 25 following a three-game losing streak, yet it is assured of earning no lower than a No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament in two weeks in Madison Square Garden. Coach Jay Wright’s program has won the last two Big East tourneys and three of four — oh, and the 2016 and 2018 national championships.
The title banners (and one for 1985) were raised in the Wells Fargo Center, but not even the national champs could take center stage in Philly on Saturday.
Fans scrolled their phones and were still buzzing over the Phillies’ record signing of free-agent Bryce Harper. Harper had just pulled on his pinstripe jersey and Phillies cap for the first time at a press conference in Clearwater, Florida when Villanova tipped off. The Wildcats weren’t the 1A story in the city — they weren’t even headline news in their own arena. Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors were in town and set to play the 76ers hours after the final horn. With the fast turnaround time, the game was played on the Sixers’ court instead of the one adorned with Villanova logos.
It took some time for Villanova to feel at home. The Wildcats missed six of their first seven shots and struggling Butler led early by nine.
Booth, the two-time national champion guard, took control and buried a 3-pointer and converted a three-point play to give the Wildcats a 27-23 lead and they took off the rest of the way. Booth pushed the lead to 15 with a 3 early in the second half, and Paschall’s thunderous baseline dunk got a rise out of fans on hand for the appetizer before the NBA’s game of the night.
The Wildcats had a video tribute for the 2009 Final Four team, the first to get that far under coach Jay Wright. If the Wildcats want to make it four Final Fours in 10 years, they’ll need more than Booth and Paschall to make serious offensive contributions. The search for a consistent third scorer goes on: Jermaine Samuels followed his 10 of 19 (5 threes) and 29-point outing in a win over No. 10 Marquette with just seven points against Butler. Saddiq Bey scored 11 points in a modest effort for the Wildcats.
The Bulldogs (15-14, 6-10) needed a win to remain in the NCAA Tournament picture and will pretty much need to win it all in two weeks in New York to have a shot at March Madness. Paul Jorgensen led Butler with 11 points. Butler had closed within eight late in the second half but couldn’t sustain the run and Booth’s fourth 3-pointer made it a 15-point game.
Butler: Shot just 5 of 26 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Villanova: F Cole Swider was in uniform for the first time since he broke his right hand on Jan. 17 and could add some depth if he can return for the tournament.
Butler host Xavier on Wednesday.
Villanova finishes the regular season Saturday at Seton Hall.