By Harry Allison
Villanova fans are used to tough Big East games on the road, in which the Cats play down to their opponent in the first half and then wear them down to win.
And they are also used to a different hero in every game.
Yesterday, it was Kris Jenkins’ turn.
Jenkins made back-to-back 3s that sparked a late run and rallied No. 6 Villanova to its 10th straight victory, 78-66 at Xavier.
The Wildcats (27-2, 14-2 Big East) made five 3s during a 17-7 spurt for their first substantial lead of the game. Jenkins had 14 points to go with Dylan Ennis’ team-high 16.
“They tell me when I’m out there just to play defense and rebound,” said Jenkins, who finished one point shy of his career high.
And he can shoot, too, just like everybody in Villanova’s formidable lineup.
“He was just playing defense and when we were on offense, their guards were being aggressive and we got them to collapse and Kris was around the 3-point line ready to shoot,” guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “It’s nothing new. We see it every day in practice.”
Xavier (18-12, 8-9) led most of the way and had a nine-point advantage at the start of the second half. The Musketeers couldn’t weather a late 3-point barrage by Villanova, which went 13 of 29 from beyond the arc overall.
Jalen Reynolds led Xavier with 15 points and six rebounds. The Musketeers missed 10 of 11 shots and had three turnovers while Villanova pulled away.
“For 32 minutes, we were right there,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “In the last 8 minutes, their experience showed and their talent level. They’re as good as anybody in the country.
“Those guys are shooting from 30 feet, from 27 feet. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Xavier led for most of a wide-open first half, using an 8-0 run to pull ahead 40-33 at the break. The officials backed off and let `em play, calling only five fouls in the first 15 minutes.
The Musketeers shot 59 percent from the field in the half and got the better of the long-range game that is Villanova’s specialty. Xavier went 7 of 13 from beyond the arc.
Ennis led the Wildcats to their 88-75 win over Xavier on Jan. 14, hitting five 3s and scoring 17 overall. He was the only one to hit a shot consistently in the first half on Saturday, going 4 of 7 from beyond the arc for 14 points.
Xavier pushed the lead to nine points at the start of the second half before Arcidiacono hit a pair of pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer to tighten it. There were five lead changes before Villanova took control with its 3-point shooting.
The winning streak is Villanova’s second-longest in Big East regular season play, trailing an 11-game streak in 2005-06. The Wildcats have won 27 games for the fourth time in school history.
Darrun Hilliard led the Wildcats in scoring during their last nine games, averaging 18.6 points. He missed five of his six shots in the first half, managing only two points, and finished with six.