PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Villanova turned the anticipated Big East game of the year into a romp by the time some fans were still taking their seats.
Phil Booth hit five 3s and scored a career high 21 points while Jalen Brunson had 17 to lead the No. 1 Wildcats to an 89-65 win over No. 10 Xavier on Wednesday night.
“We still have to get better,” coach Jay Wright said.
Hard to say where after Villanova’s latest lopsided victory.
The Wildcats (15-1, 3-1 Big East) returned to the top spot of the poll and dominated like a team that won’t lose its grip on that rank anytime soon.
Booth and Brunson opened the game with 3s and the Wildcats played every bit as worthy as their ranking as they raced to a 22-9 lead. Booth hit three 3s in the first half and Brunson was solid both from long range and in attacking the basket to make it 40-28 at the break.
The Wildcats took a 13-point lead in the half on the play of the game: Donte DiVincenzo stole the ball and fed to Eric Paschal just before halfcourt. Paschal passed to Booth who put some extra arc on a lob and the 6-foot-9 Paschal slammed it home to rock the rim and bring the crowd to its feet.
Brunson, who made The Associated Press preseason All-America team, hit a pair of 3s and had five assists and just one turnover running the offense.
“You peel his face off, you’ll probably have wires coming out of it,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “I think they’re led by the best point guard in college basketball.”
Booth was just as sharp and has finally rounded into form after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury.
“I felt well probably about (Dec. 5) Gonzaga, getting the rhythm of the game,” he said.
“It looked good tonight, man,” Wright chimed in.
The Wildcats’ annual defeat at Butler had no impact on a program that has been humming along, collecting Big East titles and the 2016 national championship. Villanova hasn’t lost more than five games in a season since 2012-13 and it’s hard to find two or three more losses on the schedule, much less anything that would send the Wildcats into a tailspin.
“It’s hard for any player when you’re winning to still focus on getting better,” Wright said.
The Wildcats are getting better. They needed just a week to reclaim its lost No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25. The Wildcats returned to the top after an upset-filled week that rattled the poll.
With the shakeup at the top of the poll in the wake of losses by No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Duke, Xavier (15-3, 3-2) might have been able to make this game a 1-2 matchup had it defeated Providence. The Musketeers instead had their 10-game winning streak snapped in an 81-72 loss to the Friars and slid to 10th.
They couldn’t bounce back in Philly.
Trevon Bluiett (19.4 points) and J.P Macura (13.1 points) were awful in the first half and could not stop Nova from dominating. The duo went 3-for-11 from the floor, hit just one 3 and Xavier was generally overwhelmed, like so many Big East teams here before them.
“They do it to a lot of teams,” Mack said.
Mikal Bridges hit Villanova’s ninth 3 midway through the second half to make it 66-48 and squash the Musketeers for good.
Xavier: Kerem Kanter led Xavier with 16 points. … Mack remains stuck at 201 wins, one shy of matching Pete Gillen for first on the program’s career list. Mack picked up a few of those wins knocking off the top dog – the Musketeers had actually won four of their last games against the No. 1 team.
Villanova: More of the same for the Wildcats. Villanova improved to 16-4 and 10-0 at home as the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25.
The Wildcats had been roughed up defensively of late, allowing at least 85 points in three straight games (2-1). They allowed 100 (101) for the first time this season against Butler and 85 and 90 in wins over DePaul and Marquette. But they held Xavier to 34 percent shooting in the first half and never let it mount a rally in the second. The 65 points allowed were the fewest since they gave up 53 to Saint Joseph’s on Dec. 2.
“We just kind of lost it,” Wright said. “You just can’t say, ‘we’re going to play defense now,’ when you haven’t done it for three weeks.”
Xavier hosts No. 25 Creighton on Saturday.
The Wildcats head to Madison Square Garden to play St. John’s on Saturday.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25