NCAA Basketball

No. 2 Villanova vies for Big East crown vs. Providence

Villanova advanced to the championship game of the Big East Tournament for the fourth consecutive season.

But it won't face top-seeded Xavier as expected.

Instead, the second-seeded Wildcats will battle fifth-seeded Providence for the Big East title Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

No. 2 Villanova (29-4) rolled to a 19-0 lead and crushed sixth-seeded Butler 87-68 in the semifinal round on Friday. The Musketeers were shocked by Providence 75-72 in overtime earlier in the day.

For the first time in five seasons, Villanova wasn't the top seed. Yet it still has one game remaining to clinch another conference tournament championship.

All five starters scored in double figures for the Wildcats. Mikal Bridges scored 18 points, National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson had 17 and Phil Booth added 14. Freshman Omari Spellman had 12 points and 12 rebounds while Eric Paschall scored 12 points.

Even though Providence may not be as talented as Xavier, the Wildcats are preparing for a tough matchup.

"They're very physical, very disciplined defensively," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Providence in a postgame interview on Fox Sports One. "We always have very tight games. That's what the Big East is all about. It will be nice and ugly tomorrow night, I promise."

Villanova advanced to the tournament final in convincing fashion by ripping making 10 of its first 12 shots and never letting up. Once the Wildcats led 19-0, Butler was essentially defeated.

"I was glad to see our team come out with great attention to detail," Brunson said in a postgame interview with Fox Sports One. "We were getting stops. We're always trying to take pride in defense and Coach always challenges us."

Villanova split a pair of games with Providence this season, winning 89-69 on Jan. 23 at the Wells Fargo Center and dropping a 76-71 matchup Feb. 14 in Providence.

The Friars (21-12) rallied from a 17-point deficit to overcome Xavier, which still has a viable shot at earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo each scored 17 points for Providence, which likely cemented an NCAA berth even with a loss to Villanova in the championship game.

"We never thought about the bubble. We just played with confidence," Bullock told reporters. "That's how we play."

Providence head coach Ed Cooley raised his arms in triumph following the victory over Xavier.

"What a win for Providence College and the character of the young men," Cooley told reporters. "I'm proud of them. We played a great team and we're fortunate to move on. We're looking forward to whoever the winner of the next game is to prepare and -- but these young men, all of them, they played their hearts out and left it out there."

The Friars are looking to earn their fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth. They are also in search of their third Big East tournament title, winning previously in 1994 and 2014.

Providence has won consecutive Big East Tournament games in overtime. In the quarterfinals, it ousted Creighton 72-68.

Winning close games in the conference tournament just may land the Friars in the NCAAs.

"It's something that we didn't do early on in the year," Providence guard Kyron Cartwright told reporters after scoring 15 points and dishing out six assists. "But when we needed it most, we did."

Updated March 10, 2018

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