Villanova's 73-57 defeat of Xavier was a matchup between two of the top teams in the Big East. Villanova had every upper hand though as their flawless execution foiled the Musketeers’ stagnant offense.
After Xavier's leading scorer Trevon Bluiett left the floor with an injury during the first half, the Wildcats and Musketeers shortened to six. Quentin Goodin, Malcolm Bernard, and JP Macura nearly went the distance for Xavier, as did Villanova's Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Mikal Bridges. Both teams played a lot of zone to keep their stars out of foul trouble, slowing down the pace for two of the conference’s fastest teams.
Bluiett's ankle injury was the turning point of the game. Xavier held a 12-10 lead, and they were neck and neck with the Wildcats when Bluiett went down. His injury allowed Bridges, a lock down defender, to set traps, deflect passes and make steals. He certainly made his presence felt in Villanova's half court pressure throughout the second half, as the Musketeers missed countless layups as a result of his excellent defense.
Jalen Brunson was as important for Villanova's offense as Bridges was for their defense. He finished with 17 points and seven assists, finding the open man or open space whenever Xavier made a mini-run to narrow the Cats’ lead.
Goodin, Xavier’s freshman point guard, couldn't compete with Brunson on either end, forcing bad shots and failing to follow his assignment in Xavier's pick and roll defense. He shot 1-for-14 from the field and added several turnovers as a result of poorly timed entry passes that almost always ended up in Brunson or Bridges' hands.
RaShid Gaston was the biggest bright spot, posting a career-high 23 points as well as 10 rebounds. While he benefited from ‘Nova’s small lineup and led the game in second chance points, he struggled on defense against smaller assignments.
Villanova was simply unguardable for the banged up Xavier team. Hedge on the pick and roll, watch Brunson find Bridges rolling or Jenkins popping. Cut off passing lanes, miss Donte DiVincenzo cutting to the back door. The aforementioned DiVincenzo scored 17 points on seven shots, mostly off of missed assignments.
With the win, Jay Wright now has 500 career coaching wins, so a hearty congrats is in order to the Villanova coach on hitting the milestone.
The Wildcats certainly justified its No. 1 ranking by the selection committee in the hours after it was announced. They’ll look to continue to expose the Big East Monday at DePaul, while Xavier will face Providence on Wednesday.