INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Villanova found a winning combination Sunday night — a little defense and a lot of Hart.
With most of their top big men in foul trouble, Ryan Arcidiacono struggling to make shots and No. 18 Butler refusing to go away, the Wildcats buckled down defensively and gave the ball to Josh Hart, who scored 22 points to lead No. 11 Villanova past the Bulldogs 60-55.
It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but to coach Jay Wright, it was basketball at its finest.
“This game came down to defense, which is at the core of each of these teams. I love it,” Wright said.
The Wildcats (14-2, 4-0) have won six straight and are the last unbeaten team in Big East play. Given the circumstances, this might have been their most impressive win, too.
Arcidiacono, last season’s co-conference player of the year, went 1 of 9 from the field and missed all five of his 3-pointers in the first half but rallied the team early in the second half with a flurry of scoring plays, passes and defensive stops. It led to a 14-0 run that erased Butler’s seven-point lead and put Villanova in control. He finished with 11 points and four assists.
Forward Daniel Ochefu was averaging 17.0 points and 11.7 rebounds in league play but logged only 19 minutes because of foul trouble. He had six points and five rebounds.
So Hart got a chance to shine — and he did. He scored eight points in a challenging first half and the last eight in a 10-2 run that allowed Villanova to extend its 44-43 lead to 54-45 with 3:25 left.
“At the end, I was just playing Villanova basketball, which is all about attention to detail,” said Hart, who made 10 of 15 shots.
With their defense locked in, that was all the Wildcats really needed.
Roosevelt Jones scored 20 points to lead Butler (12-4, 1-3) despite playing with an injured left wrist that almost forced him to sit out.
Kellen Dunham added 13 points and Tyler Wideman had 10 as the Bulldogs lost their second straight at home.
Butler closed to within 58-55 in the final minute and had a chance to tie the score. But Jordan Gathers missed a 3 from the corner with 13 seconds left, and Ochefu made two free throws to seal it.
“They’re in the top five in the country defensively for a reason,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “They showed that tonight here, on the road.”
Outside Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler fans woke up to tough news Sunday morning when Andrew Smith’s wife, Samantha, posted a blog item telling the public that doctors had informed her that his “death was imminent.” Smith has battled cancer for two years after playing on both of the Bulldogs’ national runner-up teams. He is 25 years old.
The defenses made it tough on everyone. Villanova made just 41.5 percent from the field and was 4 of 15 on 3s. Butler shot 34.5 percent from the field in the first half and was 9 of 24 in the second half while finishing 3 of 15 from 3-point range.
A frustrated Holtmann took his team to task for not moving the ball better in recent games. But he insisted it’s not time to lose confidence. “If something like this beats us down, we aren’t ready to play in the Big East. We have to get a lot better,” he said.
Wildcats: Have won all six meetings in this series. … The conference’s top scoring defense (60.5 points per game) held the league’s highest-scoring offense (86.5) to a season-low point total. … The win gave Wright his 150th regular-season win in Big East.
Bulldogs: Fell to 7-2 at home, where they were averaging 94.8 points per game this season. … Dunham went four games without making a 3 but has made 9 of his last 15. … Butler fell to 4-1 in games decided by six or fewer points this season.
Villanova hosts Marquette on Wednesday.
Butler hosts St. John’s on Saturday.