No. 8 Villanova looks to ride defense against Butler

NCAA Basketball

Villanova will be looking for its third consecutive victory when it visits Butler on Sunday afternoon.

The No. 8-ranked Wildcats (15-3, 10-2 Big East) breezed past St. John’s 81-58 on Tuesday.

Villanova received offensive balance with Caleb Daniels leading the way with 17 points. Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels added 14 apiece and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 12.

As usual, defense has propelled the Wildcats this season.

“We just had to get back to playing Villanova basketball,” Gillespie said. “Just focusing on defending and rebounding. This was our most important game because it was our next game. It wasn’t because this was St. John’s or payback or anything like that. We respect them. They’re very physical and very tough. This was a great test for us.”

Gillespie, a senior and one of the top guards in the country, has carried the Wildcats through this difficult COVID-19 season filled with challenges.

“Collin is our heart and soul, our engine,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “To see him come out like that, so tough and aggressive, is what college athletics is all about. He had a tough game against them last time.

“They did a great job on him,” Wright added. “And he comes back with great confidence tonight, not trying to do it all on his own, getting other people shots, making the right plays. It’s the sign of a great leader.”

The Wildcats have also received a big lift from their bench lately, especially Brandon Slater and Cole Swider. Their production has made them even more balanced.

“Those are the guys that we’re playing against every day in practice,” Gillespie said. “They’re really getting into us and making it tough for us in practice. So we have a ton of confidence in those guys when they come into games because we know that they’re making plays in practice.”

Butler will be searching for its second straight win.

In their last game, the Bulldogs came away with an impressive 61-52 victory over Seton Hall. They improved to 8-13 overall and 7-11 in the conference.

Jair Bolden scored 16 points, all in the second half. Chuck Harris added 14 and Bryce Nze posted his fourth double-double of the season with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Nze had missed the previous two games with a groin injury.

“Really proud of the effort all night. We did a great job of sticking to the game plan, especially defensively,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said. “We knew what we wanted to do offensively and were able to get some good looks. I thought we were connected on both ends of the court, and the guys really locked in to the prep over the last few days.

“Having Nze back for us was big. We’re going to continue to get better and stay committed to growing as a group,” Jordan added.

It’s unclear whether Butler will be without starters Aaron Thompson (shoulder/thumb) and Bo Hodges (calf) for the third consecutive game.

Bolden’s offensive output came in the flow of the game, and he continues to give all the credit to his teammates. Even with the team struggling overall, he remains ultra confident.

“My teammates are playing tremendous,” Bolden said. “Our guard play is great. Our bigs are playing tremendous. When that happens, it opens up things for me as a shooter.”

–Field Level Media

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