No. 1 Nova won't let loss spoil Big East championship chase
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart fled from the fans that rushed the court before Villanova got lost in the swarm that turned the angry Bulldog mascot stamped on halfcourt into the site of an impromptu mosh pit.
The Wildcats are used to mayhem on the court - the confetti, the hugs, the wild celebration stretching deep into the night.
But the national champions were the team in Indianapolis who had to escape the frivolity after No. 18 Butler pulled off a 66-58 win over the Wildcats at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Villanova's winning streak ended at 20 games. The No. 1 ranking in The AP Top 25 poll could be the next extermination.
Just how long ago was it since Villanova last lost a game? Barack Obama was the president. Gas was more than $2 a gallon. Rihanna dominated the Billboard Hot 100. The 76ers were the worst team in the NBA. OK, OK, so not much has changed since the Wildcats last lost to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament championship game.
The Wildcats rebounded from that defeat just fine, ripping off six straight wins in the NCAA Tournament for their first national title since 1985. They beat ranked Purdue and Notre Dame teams to open this season on a 14-game winning streak until the third Indiana team on the schedule tripped them up on the road.
The Wildcats (14-1, 2-1 Big East) won't go undefeated this season.
They won't go into the tank, either.
The first loss for the champs should just be a minor hiccup as they chase a fourth straight regular season Big East championship and try and become the first team to win back-to-back national titles since Florida in 2006 and 2007.
The loss in Indy was a clunker:
- Shot a season-low 37.3 percent from the field.
- Shot just 6 of 26 from 3-point range.
- Hart, the preseason All-America, played through foul trouble and scored just 13 points on 3 of 11 shooting overall and 1 of 5 on 3s.
- Mikal Bridges (0 points in 28 minutes) and Eric Paschall (0 points in 17 minutes) were ineffective off the bench.
- Butler shot 52 percent in the second half.
''They just did more than us tonight,'' coach Jay Wright said . ''I don't think it was a specific play here or there. Over the course of the game, hitting a shot here, making an extra pass there, they did a better job than us.''
Wright's face turned red when he argued a call and the usually cool championship coach had to be restrained by one assistant and Hart. Wright was livid as he stormed off the bench and continued arguing even after the whistle blew.
Wright chilled out after the game and seemed more resolute about correcting mistakes before Saturday's game against Marquette on the 76ers home court than furious with the outcome. The Wildcats play three days later against No. 16 Xavier.
The Wildcats, who squeaked by DePaul in the Big East opener, can take solace that Hart, Jenkins and the rest of the team simply played their worst game of the year against one of the top teams in college basketball.
Wright can also feel good that Jalen Bruson has again proved he's the real deal to run the offense. He scored 23 points four days after he scored 23 to help the Wildcats win at Creighton.
''Having three seniors really helps,'' Wright said. ''Jalen is an old soul. It's like having another senior out there. We have veteran guys that are not going to be impacted by the moment and the pressure.''
Villanova's loss leaves No. 2 Baylor and No. 5 Gonzaga as the nation's only unbeaten teams. Baylor could hit No. 1 in the poll for the first time in school history.
The Wildcats likely won't add to many more losses to their record - they've gone 16-2 in the Big East each of the last three years.
''What I always try and say is, I judge where our program is by what we do in the Big East,'' Wright said. ''If we're at the top of the Big East, I think our program is in good shape. The season is judged a lot of different ways. But in terms of where our program is, where we are among our peers, if we're competing for regular season championships, competing for Big East tournament championships, I'm good.''