Junior swingman Mikal Bridges scored 18 points and conference Player of the Year Jalen Brunson added 17 and second-seeded Villanova scored the game’s first 19 points of the game on its way to an 87-68 victory in the semifinal round of the Big East tournament Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Junior guard Phil Booth contributed 14 and freshman forward Omari Spellman had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats, who improved to 29-4 and advanced to the championship game on Saturday. Junior forward Eric Paschall also scored 12 points for Villanova, which had all five starters in double figures.
Instead of facing No. 1-seeded Xavier, the Wildcats will instead battle fifth-seeded Providence. The Friars overcame a 17-point deficit in the second half to stun the Musketeers, 75-72, in overtime in the other Big East semifinal.
Villanova will be playing in the conference tournament final for the fourth consecutive season, with the Wildcats winning in 2015 and 2017 while they lost to Seton Hall in 2016.
Senior forward Kelan Martin led Butler with 13 points while sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin added 12. Junior guard Paul Jorgensen scored 11 points off the bench and senior starting forward Tyler Wideman had 10.
Butler (20-13) had advanced to the semifinals with a 75-74 win over Seton Hall for its first career win in the Big East tournament in five tries.
Holding that 19-point edge into halftime, Villanova kept the pressure on early in the second half as Bridges hit a deep 3-pointer for a 50-31 lead with 17:03 remaining.
Sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo’s driving layup gave the Wildcats a 54-34 lead as Butler’s defense was virtually nonexistent.
The rout continued when Bridges connected on another trey from the baseline for a 60-38 advantage.
On the Wildcats’ next possession, Brunson rolled off a screen and converted a 15-foot jumper, extending the lead to 62-38.
Villanova hit seven straight shots and increased its lead to 65-42.
A trey by Spellman increased the Villanova lead to 83-57 with 4:47 left.
The Wildcats bolted to an incredible 19-0 lead when Spellman drilled a 3-pointer. Butler missed its first five shots while Villanova hit 10 of its first 12 from the field after the opening tap.
Booth knocked down a difficult 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining for a commanding 44-25 advantage at halftime.
Booth led all scorers with 12 points in the opening half.Butler shot 10 of 22 in the first half but had no offensive rebounds.
—Field Level Media