By Harry Allison
This was a game that was billed as a Big East collision of equals.
Villanova’s No. 1-ranked Wildcats against Xavier’s talented and well-coached Musketeers.
A roaring crowd at the Wells.
And then they played the game!
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.
“We still have to get better,” coach Jay Wright said.
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 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.
“It’s hard for any player when you’re winning to still focus on getting better,” Wright said.
The Wildcats 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.