No. 1 ‘Cats fall to No. 18 Butler, 66-58



David Jarman

No. 1 Villanova finally met its match Wednesday when No. 18 Butler shattered the Wildcats’ 20-game winning streak, 66-58.

It didn’t help that midway through the first half, head coach Jay Wright was called for a technical foul getting heated for what he thought to be a missed call, believing Mikal Bridges’ shot was tipped by Butler. As the Bulldogs scored five straight points to take their first lead of the game, the Butler student section ensued with insults directed at the Villanova bench.

While the hostility of the crowd may have been an adverse task to deal with, what was more difficult for the Wildcats was scoring on Butler’s stellar defense. While Jalen Brunson led the Wildcats with 23 points, Villanova was held to 37 percent shooting from the field. For a team that is known for a dynamic offensive attack, Butler’s defense came to play, as they were able to level off Villanova’s dribble penetration causing them to miss shots outside of the paint.

By holding Villanova to a low shooting percentage, the Bulldogs were able to defeat Villanova for the first time in school history. This was their second win against the No. 1 ranked team in the country, their previous coming in 2012 against Indiana.  

If there was any indication that this game was going to be defensive struggle, the first half displayed it. Butler took a 16-15 lead after Wright’s technical foul, and the Wildcats knew they needed to respond.

Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins helped the Wildcats to an 8-2 run to retake the lead 23-18 with four minutes left in the half. The Bulldogs responded with the play of 6-foot-7 junior forward Kelan Martin and freshman guard Kamar Baldwin.

While Brunson made some shots late in the first half, Baldwin and Martin scored the next nine Butler points, including Baldwin’s a buzzer-beating floater to cut the Villanova lead by four at halftime, 31-27.

One of the biggest reasons why Villanova retained a first half lead was because they had an advantage of points scored in the paint, as the Wildcats outscored the Bulldogs 14-4 after 20 minutes of play.  

In the second half, Butler was able to feed of the energy of their home crowd and give the Wildcats a fight to the finish. Head coach Chris Holtmann had his defense step up in a big way, causing Villanova to shoot 9-for-23 from the field and limiting Hart to 13 points, shooting 3-for-11 from the field.

The Bulldogs cut off the dribble-drive ability of Hart and Brunson, while senior forward Andrew Chrabascz finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. After a Hart jumper with 3:22 left in the game, Villanova regained the lead at 52-51.

The Wildcats lead quickly evaporated due to the play of Butler’s bench. The Bulldogs outscored Villanova’s bench-play 25-6, with their biggest contribution coming from senior guard Kethan Savage. Despite fouling out with 1:40 left in the game, he finished with 13 points and had a key layup late in the game after intercepting Jenkins’ cross-court pass ten seconds before his fifth foul.

The deflating moment came in the game’s final minute with the Butler lead at 58-54. Hart’s defensive rebound was stolen by Kamar Baldwin and turned into a lay-up to give the Bulldogs a six-point lead.

Butler hit their free throws down the stretch, as they were a perfect 15 for 15 from the charity stripe. When the clock hit zero, the student section stormed the court in celebration.

Villanova returns home to play their first of four games at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to host Steve Wojciechowski and the Marquette Golden Eagles Saturday night. Tipoff is at 7:30 on Fox Sports 1.