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Wildcats Upended by Butler 101-93
Mikal Bridges
Dec. 30, 2017

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A display of offensive firepower helped Butler (12-3 overall, 1-1 BIG EAST) withstand a late push and lifted the Bulldogs past Villanova 101-93 here before a sellout crowd at Hinkle Field House Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs kicked their offense into high gear late in the first half to break open a close game and kept the momentum going in the second half.

A late spurt helped the Wildcats narrow the gap to single digits but the hole that had grown to 23 midway through the second half was too large to escape. The Bulldogs offensive proficiency -- they converted 60 percent of their field goal attempts on the day and were 15-of-22 from beyond the 3-point arc (.682) - was too much to overcome for the Wildcats, who dropped their first game of 2017-18 after reeling off 13 consecutive wins.

Junior Jalen Brunson helped lead the second half charge and finished with 31 points, tying his career high set earlier in the month at Temple. Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Villanova.

"I thought Butler moved the ball extremely well, especially in transition," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "The passes were crisp and everyone was ready to catch and shoot. Butler played with great confidence. That's how you get open looks. I just thought they killed us in transition."

Each of the previous four visits the Wildcats had made here since Butler entered the BIG EAST in 2013 resulted in down to the wire battles. The early minutes of this one featured more of the same as the leads took turns holding the leading. Seven early points from Bridges helped push VU into a 16-13 but the Bulldogs responded quickly to regain the lead at 23-21 before a 5-0 spurt capped by a Donte DiVincenzo 3-pointer gave the Wildcats a 26-23 lead with 8:04 to play in the first period.

A 9-0 run by Butler that included a trio of 3-pointers, including a pair from Kamar Baldwin, helped the Bulldogs grab a 34-28 edge with just over six minutes to play in the period.

Some good work from DiVincenzo and Brunson got the Wildcats to within 42-40 but a 13-3 spurt over the final two minutes allowed the Bulldogs to take a 53-45 into the locker room at halftime. Butler finished the period with 10 3-point field goals on 17 attempts (.588) and connected on .571 of all of its attempts from the floor.

Brunson paced VU with 13 points in the first 20 minutes while Bridges and DiVincenzo added 11 each. Paul Jorgensen led Butler with 16 points.

Butler continued its crisp offensive execution in the opening minutes of the second half, reeling off five straight points to expand its margin to 58-45. At the first official timeout of the period -- with 15:26 remaining on the clock -- the Wildcats trailed 62-48. Soon the gap grew to 68-51 after 6:42 of the second half.

In all, it was a 31-13 burst that extended from the later stages of the first half through the first 8:10 of the second half that allowed Butler to build a 23 point lead with 10:23 to go in the game. But then came a ferocious 14-0 spurt by the Wildcats, who combined stops at the defensive end with a smoother offensive flow to narrow the gap to 84-76 as the game approached the four minute mark.

The Wildcats got to within 93-87 but the deficit proved too large to surmount. The 1010 points scored by Butler were the most allowed by Villanova since a 101-80 defeat at Creighton on Feb. 16, 2014.

"We knew we weren't where we want to be defensively and this is the best offensive team we have faced this season," Wright noted. "We have been outscoring people but you weren't going to outscore this team tonight. Butler was outstanding and deserves the credit."

"We just have to go back, watch the film, and get to work in practice," added Bridges.

The Wildcats are idle until next Saturday when they return to the Wells Fargo Center for the BIG EAST home opener against Marquette. That contest will tip off at 8 p.m. and air nationally on FS1.

The 2017-18 Villanova Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.