NEW YORK (AP) — Mikal Bridges had 18 points and second-ranked Villanova scored the first 19 points and cruised toward its fourth straight trip in the Big East Tournament championship game in an 87-68 win over Butler on Friday night.
About 30 minutes after top-seeded Xavier was upset by Providence in overtime, the Wildcats (29-4) hit the court and showed how a favorite should play in a tournament semifinal.
The Wildcats scored five seconds into the game and used near-perfect execution on a 16-0 run before Butler coach LaVall Jordan finally called a timeout at the 15:37 mark. He could have waved a white flag to signal for the TO.
Omari Spellman buried a 3 to make it 19-0 and the Wildcats proved why the Big East tournament title always goes through the Main Line and straight to MSG. Butler finally scored and heard some mock cheers for the jumper.
Hey, at least the Bulldogs (20-13) were only down 17.
Butler called a 30-second timeout with 11:35 left in the second half and trailed by 25 points. Yes, this was a tournament semifinal game.
The Wildcats hit 10 of their first 12 shots that made for an anticlimactic final 35 minutes at the Garden. Providence had rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and stunned top-seeded and No. 3 Xavier 75-72 in the first conference semifinal that had MSG rocking.
This seemed like a tune-up for a coronation.
Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson scored 17 points and Spellman had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Villanova won the tournament in 2015 and 2017 and lost to Seton Hall in 2016.
The Wildcats did split two games against Providence but the Friars are coming off overtime games on consecutive nights and will be a heavy underdog.
Villanova vs. Xavier — the No. 2 and 3 teams in the AP Top 25 — had been an anticipated final. The Wildcats lost the outright regular-season title even though it beat the Musketeers twice.
The sixth-seeded Bulldogs stunned third-seeded Seton Hall 75-74 for its first career Big East Tournament victory and a win over the Wildcats on Dec. 30 made it seem like this should have been competitive.
Instead, Kelan Martin, who averaged 21.1 points, scored just four for the Bulldogs in the first half. He finished with 12.
The Wildcats hit six 3s, including Phil Booth’s at the buzzer, to send them into the break ahead 44-25.
Butler: The Bulldogs are still in good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid and should be in the mix for No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Butler has lost three of four games.
Villanova: The Wildcats have won six of seven games and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have won 10 of 11 Big East Tournament games.
Butler: Butler waits to find out its NCAA Tournament fate
Villanova: The Wildcats beat the Friars 89-69 on Jan. 23 and lost at Providence 76-71 on Feb. 14.