No. 7 Villanova is chasing a fourth consecutive victory when it hosts Butler on Wednesday.
The Wildcats improved to 5-1 with a 76-63 win in their Big East opener Friday at Georgetown. They rallied from an 18-point deficit to post their largest comeback victory since 2012.
Villanova (5-1, 1-0) is playing at home for the first time this season. Following four games in the Mohegan Sun “bubble” in Uncasville, Conn., the Wildcats traveled to Texas and finally hit Georgetown’s on-campus arena for the first time since 1981.
To down the Hoyas, Caleb Daniels and Collin Gillespie led the way with 18 points apiece. Daniels, a Tulane transfer, helped propel the Wildcats in his Big East debut.
“We’re a very resilient team,” Daniels said. “We go hard in practice and we practice these type of situations every day, so these situations do not rattle us.”
Gillespie knocked down five 3-pointers and was also prominent in engineering the massive comeback. A National Player of the Year candidate, Gillespie never panicked when the Wildcats fell into a huge hole.
Gillespie identified a simple reason for the deficit.
“In the first half we were getting great shots for each other, they just weren’t falling,” Gillespie said. “In the second half we just wanted to keep doing that, keep sharing the ball, make extra passes and get guys shots.”
Villanova head coach Jay Wright saw a much more determined group in the second half, the type of effort which has catapulted the team to a lofty national ranking.
“We didn’t make any great changes in the second half,” Wright said. “I just thought we got comfortable with what they were doing and defended it better.”
Butler (1-0, 0-0) narrowly won its opener against Western Michigan 66-62 on Nov. 25 but hasn’t played since after a player tested positive for COVID-19.
Four games have either been canceled or postponed against Eastern Illinois, Northern Kentucky, Kansas State and St. John’s.
The biggest question surrounding the Bulldogs was trying to replace the leadership of Kamar Baldwin, who led them in scoring (16.2 points per game) last season before departing.
Aaron Thompson stepped up with a career-high 21 points against Western Michigan.
This group has a different look than last season when Butler finished 22-9 overall and 10-8 in the league. In college basketball, coaches face a difficult challenge each season with an ever-changing roster.
“It was emotional,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said, referring to the NCAA Tournament being canceled in March. “We had seniors who put in a ton of time and we felt like we had a pretty good group and wanted to do more together.”
Expect Butler to lean heavily on Thompson, a four-year starter who battled through some injuries a season ago and looks to be 100 percent healthy now.
“When (Thompson) is back in there, you can tell there’s a difference just with his voice in practices,” Jordan said. “You can hear him across the court and if you’re coming to watch us at a practice, you’ll hear him in the stands.”
Butler was picked eighth in the preseason Big East poll.
“We don’t really take too much stock in it,” Thompson said. “We know we can play with anybody in the country.”
–Field Level Media