February 23, 2015

Villanova and Providence are the last two Big East tournament champions but only one will get the chance to add another.

For the second straight year, the third-ranked Wildcats will meet the Friars with a berth in the conference title game on the line Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova (28-4) is trying to claim both the regular-season and conference tournament championships for a second straight season. The Wildcats swept through three games at MSG by an average of 18 points last March, but their stiffest test came in a 63-61 win over fourth-seeded Providence in the semifinals.

They beat eighth-seeded Georgetown 81-67 on Thursday to set up another semifinal meeting with the No. 4 Friars, who shot 55.4 percent from the floor in a 74-60 victory over fifth-seeded Butler.

Villanova coach Jay Wright wants his team to focus on the Friars instead of the possibility of a victory being enough to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the Big East should solidify that status.

"I know our people are tired of hearing this, we don't care about the seeds," he said. "We don't think about the seeds. We really concentrate on enjoying this moment. We really do. I know it sounds corny. It's just what we do. We love being here right now.

"We are fired up about playing (Friday) because we're going to have plenty of time when this is over to sit around and do nothing except to listen to everybody talk about seeds. We'll do it then."

Villanova split two season meetings with Providence (23-9), winning 72-60 on the road Feb. 6 behind 19 points and 10 rebounds from Darryl Reynolds.

Josh Hart, who had 14 points and 13 boards in that game, scored a game-high 25 against the Hoyas and is averaging 20.0 points on 61.9 percent from the field over the last four games. Hart was the most outstanding player in last year's Big East tournament as a sophomore, averaging 17.7 points on 21-of-29 shooting and 9 of 14 from 3-point range.

Villanova converted 13 of 21 from behind the arc Thursday, but has connected on only 21 of 76 3-pointers (27.6 percent) in the last three meetings with the Friars.

"We're going to have to bring our 'A' game," Friars guard Kris Dunn said. "This is a disciplined game. They have a lot of shooters. We're going to have to go out there and play with that same energy we had (Thursday). That joy and go out and fight. I really think this is going to be a street fight. That's how we're going to have to do it. Go out there and fight and hit shots and make big stops."

Providence likely will need another big performance from Ben Bentil, who poured in 38 points on 16-of-24 shooting and 5 of 9 from long distance Thursday. Bentil matched the second-highest scoring output in tournament history, behind only Donyell Marshall's 42 points for Connecticut against St. John's in 1994.

''That was a great offensive display. I haven't seen that in a long, long time in our league,'' Providence coach Ed Cooley said.

Bentil, the Big East leader with 21.7 per game, has averaged 29.4 points and shot 50.5 percent in his last five games.

"Don't shy away from it. If you see somebody has a hot hand, try to get him the ball in the best spot that he can score in," Dunn said of Bentil.

Providence's star foward totaled 51 points against the Wildcats this season.

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