CINCINNATI (AP) — Mikal Bridges led an early 3-point shooting spurt that put Villanova in control, and the third-ranked Wildcats showed they're not ready to relinquish their reign in the Big East, beating No. 4 Xavier 95-79 on Saturday in a showdown for the league lead.
The Wildcats (24-3, 11-3) have won all four regular-season titles since the league was reconfigured. Xavier (24-4, 12-3) had a chance to take control of the race, but simply wasn't up to the Wildcats' level in the biggest game of the season. Now, Xavier's lead is down to a half game and Villanova has swept the season series.
Bridges scored 25 points in a balanced attack that got the best of a matchup between the league's top offenses. Trevon Bluiett had 26 points for Xavier, which had its nine-game winning streak snapped.
The Wildcats ended their three-game shooting slump by making 11 3-pointers in the first half when they pulled out to a 19-point lead and silenced a raucous crowd at the Cintas Center, where Xavier was undefeated this season.
Bluiett led a second-half surge that cut it to 64-61 with 11 minutes left before Bridges' basket blunted the comeback. Donte DiVincenzo hit back-to-back 3s as the Wildcats rebuilt their lead to double digits and pulled away. DiVincenzo finished with 21 ponits.
In the end, it was like the last four games between the league's heavyweights. Villanova has won 10 of 11 against Xavier in the Big East, the last four by margins of 25, 22, 24 and 16 points.
Villanova: The Wildcats have been among the nation's best at 3-point shooting until the last three games, when went 17 of 71 from beyond the arc. They had their worst game of the season during a 76-71 loss at Providence, going 3 of 20. Villanova went 11 of 19 from beyond the arc in the first half on Saturday. After missing their first seven 3-point tries in the second half, they found their mark and pulled away, finishing 16 of 34 on 3s.
Xavier: The Musketeers came out overly aggressive — three fouls in the first 26 seconds — and missed eight of their first 12 shots, helping Villanova settle in. They've had bad first halves in their last four games against the Wildcats.
Villanova: Wildcats host DePaul on Wednesday, followed by games at Creighton and Seton Hall before finishing at home against Georgetown.
Xavier: Musketeers play at Georgetown on Wednesday. They beat the Hoyas in overtime 96-91 at the Cintas Center on Feb. 3. They finish at home against Providence — one of the teams that beat them — and at DePaul.