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Villanova opens Big East title defense with rout of Marquette

Villanova forward Omari Spellman and guard Mikal Bridges

Villanova forward Omari Spellman and guard Mikal Bridges react to a play during the second half against Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, March 8, 2018. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

If Villanova plays as well as it did in the Big East quarterfinal round, if it shoots three-pointers as well as it did in the second half, it is easy to imagine the Wildcats will wind up as the very best team in the country. Or second in its own conference, which says a lot.

Villanova continued to make its case for its own ability and for the strength of the Big East with a 94-70 rout over Marquette, which did not play all that poorly, at least for a half.

“There’s a reason why they have been as good as any team in the United States. And tonight we ran into them at their best,” losing coach Steve Wojciechowski said after having seen Villanova make 64.7 percent of its three-point attempts in a 53-36 second half.

“I mean, they shot the lights out of the ball,” Wojciechowski said.

It was quite a show before a sellout crowd of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden Mikal Bridges scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds, teammate Jalen Brunson had 21 points and everyone who played for Villanova did something positive. So, Villanova (28-4), ranked second in the country, advances to the semifinals along with Xavier (28-4), ranked third nationally, with the possibility of a conference final Saturday involving two No. 1 seeds in the Big Dance.

Villanova coach Jay Wright, a fan and student of the old Big East, knows it was that way in the 1980s with Georgetown and St. John’s battling each other locally and nationally

“It’s never going to be the same. That was a special time,” he said. Still . . .

“I think what’s unique about the league now is Butler could be in that position, Seton Hall could be in that position. Creighton could be in that position and has been,” he said. “All these teams could be the Xavier/Villanovas. It wasn’t that way in the old Big East. We have to admit that. This is pretty cool. I’m excited where this league is right now.”

Marquette, riding momentum from a taut win over DePaul Wednesday, stayed close for nearly all of the first half—mostly because of its own creditable 46.7 percent three-point shooting. But a 15-4 surge that featured only one Villanova miss in 5:27 made it a 58-43 game, and not much of a game at all.

“I just think it comes with confidence. We continue to work hard in the gym by ourselves, before practice, after practice, we continue to work on our game,” Brunson said. “We all give each other confidence and we all know that we work too hard not to be confident.”

The league is good enough to keep them from ever getting overconfident. said Eric Paschall, who had 13 points and shot 5-for-7, “I feel like we’re on a different path. We don’t get practices with this game after game after game. We have to get better in the games.”

Butler 75, Seton Hall 74: Tyler Wideman converted an offensive rebound with 3.5 seconds left to give Butler (20-12) the victory Butler, led by Kamar Baldwin’s 32 points, will play Villanova in a semifinal Friday. Seton Hall is 21-11.


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