GAME NOTES: After both teams battled in overtime in their Big East Conference openers, the 11th-ranked Villanova Wildcats and Providence Friars will see who has something left in the tank when they meet at The Pavilion on Sunday night.
The Friars have suffered a pair of overtime defeats in their last two games, most recently falling to Seton Hall, 81-80, in two extra sessions. The two- game skid comes on the heels of a three-game win streak for Providence, which is 10-4 overall and set to host Georgetown next.
Villanova faced a feisty Butler squad on the road last time out and escaped with a 76-73 win in overtime. The win allowed the Wildcats to bounce back from their first loss of the season, a 78-62 stumble at Syracuse. They are now 12-1 overall, including 7-0 at home. However, a trip to Seton Hall is next on the schedule.
These are two teams from the original Big East, which was reshuffled this past offseason. The rivalry has been mostly dominated by Villanova, which has won 52 of the previous 89 meetings. However, the Friars swept the season series a season ago, and have won three of the last four overall.
In a game that featured 11 ties and 16 lead changes, Providence fell behind for the final time against Seton Hall when Sterling Gibbs nailed a pair of free-throws with four seconds to play in a second overtime. Bryce Cotton scored a game-high 25 points for the Friars, but he was guilty of the foul on Gibbs in that deciding possession.
Other than Creighton's Doug McDermott, no player in the Big East is scoring more than Cotton (19.9 ppg, 5.6 apg) this season. The 6-foot-1 guard has tallied at least 20 points in four straight games and is also showing more skill as a passer, currently averaging better than three assists per game above his career average. The real strength for the Friars lies in the frontcourt, where LaDontae Henton (12.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Kadeem Batts (12.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Tyler Harris (14.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) do the bulk of their damage. Harris managed 22 points and nine boards and Henton added 12 points and seven rebounds against Seton Hall, but Batts had only six points on 1-of-8 shooting before fouling out.
Villanova was also in a back-and-forth game against Butler, a matchup that featured 10 ties and 12 lead changes. The Wildcats made sure to set the tone in the extra sessions though, using a 5-0 burst to open the frame to take control for good.
Despite some less-than-stellar shooting (.448 FG percentage), Villanova has done pretty well for itself at the offensive end of the court this season. The Wildcats are second in the Big East in both scoring (80.5 ppg) and assists (16.3 apg). They also do fine work on the boards, where they lead the conference (40.1 pg). Defensively speaking, coach Jay Wright's team is tough to top, holding foes to 65.8 ppg and 38.9 percent shooting. JayVaughon Pinkston (15.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and James Bell (15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) are the top scoring threats, although Darrun Hilliard (13.7 ppg, 3.2 apg) cannot be ignored. Pinkston finished with a game-high 22 points against Butler, and Hilliard had 15.
Even though the Wildcats are not as formidable in the frontcourt as Providence, their advantage in guard play will shine through in this contest and afford them a comfortable win.
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