Villanova will look for a season sweep of Big East regular-season champion Providence when the two teams battle on the Main Line Tuesday night.
The No. 8-ranked Wildcats (21-7, 14-4) defeated the No. 11 Friars 89-84 on Feb. 15.
Villanova last played on Tuesday in a hard-fought 71-69 loss to No. 21 UConn in Hartford.
Collin Gillespie, who was playing with a tender ankle, led the Wildcats with 17 points, while Brandon Slater added 15. Gillespie, a National Player of the Year candidate, could be seen wincing at times.
“It was a physical, tough battle,” Gillespie said. “They made a couple of more plays down the stretch, and that’s what it came down to.”
Justin Moore has also been playing with a sore ankle, but he refuses to use it as an excuse. That’s not the Villanova way.
“These two are hurt,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I’ll tell you, they’re not practicing. Their ankles are swollen and banged up.”
If Villanova hopes to sweep Providence and eventually make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Gillespie must be as healthy as possible. He’s their leader.
“We’ve had great leaders like (Jalen) Brunson and (Ryan) Arcidiacono,” Wright said. Gillespie is “the one that is most like a coach. He literally stops them in practice and teaches them. He’ll say, ‘Stop. Look, you’ve got to lock and trail on this. I’m helping high. You’re trailing.’ He’s a teacher.”
Providence (24-3, 14-2) captured its first career Big East regular-season outright title on Saturday following a 72-51 win over Creighton.
A.J. Reeves led the way with 23 points. With a win over Villanova, Providence would set a program record for the most victories in a season under head coach Ed Cooley.
“We’ve always had dreams and possibilities,” Cooley said. “When you have young men that have your values and believe in what you believe in, through the ups and downs, today is the best part.”
The euphoric Friars played suffocating defense from the opening tip and eventually cut the nets down against a very good opponent. This has been a different version of the Friars this season.
“We played an NCAA Tournament team and they caught us on a good day,” Cooley said. “There’s a lot of emotion, but I don’t know if there’s a better college basketball environment in the country. Today is the highest of highs with respect with where we’re trying to go.”
While Providence won the regular-season title, it still must face the class of the conference in this matchup and likely the Big East tournament.
Villanova has dominated the conference since joining in the 1980-81 season.
“To win this championship, it was very emotional,” Nate Watson said. “All this work finally paid off. I’ve been here for five years. I love being a Friar.”
–Field Level Media