Villanova set for rematch against Dunn, Friars



Frank Sciccitano

When Providence knocked off Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center on January 24, it looked like they were going to be the Wildcats’ top challenger for the Big East crown. However, the Friars went 5-6 to finish the regular season and landed on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering March.

But with three straight wins against teams in the bottom half of the conference standings, Providence regained its stride heading into the Big East Tournament. On Thursday afternoon, the fourth-seeded Friars took care of fifth-seeded Butler 74-60 to advance to the semifinals and face No. 1 seed Villanova.

After a tough stretch, junior guard Kris Dunn and sophomore forward Ben Bentil reasserted themselves as the most dominant duo in the Big East. Bentil scored 38 points, his fifth 30-point game of the season, on 16-of-24 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Dunn facilitated the Friars’ attack with seven assists and finished with 15 points on an efficient 6-of-8 from the field.

Villanova was tested early against eighth-seeded Georgetown in its quarterfinal contest on Thursday, but used a 14-2 run in the second half to put the Hoyas away with an 81-67 victory. Junior guard Josh Hart and senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono led the Wildcats with 25 and 19 points, respectively.

Overall, Villanova did everything it needed to do in order to win the game. It shot well 13-of-21 from 3-point range, committed just seven turnovers, and played solid defense by recording six steals and seven blocked shots. But the story for the Wildcats moving forward will be the health of junior forward Daniel Ochefu.

Ochefu injured his ankle during practice on Tuesday and did not practice on Wednesday. He started the game but was noticeably limping at times and was limited to just 13 minutes of playing time.

The timing was not exactly the best for Ochefu’s injury. Georgetown’s 7-foot center, Bradley Hayes, returned to action in Wednesday’s first round game against DePaul and was effective against Villanova on Thursday. As a result, the Hoyas outrebounded Villanova 42-30.

With Ochefu’s health at less than 100 percent, the Wildcats will lose some versatility in their team offense and will have an interior void on defense against Providence.

But Villanova has proven that it can beat Providence without Ochefu.

When the Wildcats defeated the Friars on February 6, Ochefu missed the game with a concussion. His replacement, junior forward Darryl Reynolds, stepped in and recorded a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Since that breakout performance, Reynolds has shown the ability and confidence to log valuable minutes for the Wildcats.

It is worth noting that Bentil was dealing with an injury of his own during that February 6 matchup, and, if his performance against Butler was any indication of his current health, he is feeling much better these days.

Even if Ochefu’s ankle is healthy enough to play on Friday, expect to see Reynolds patrolling the interior for the majority of the game. His improvement over the course of the season is promising, but his biggest test will be containing Bentil and giving Villanova a chance to advance to the Big East Tournament final.