Mikal Bridges Scores 25, Leads Villanova to 95-79 Win over No. 4 Xavier

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2018

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 17: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts after hitting a three-point shot against the Xavier Musketeers in the first half of a game at Cintas Center on February 17, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

All the No. 3 Villanova Wildcats (24-3, 11-3) needed to snap out of their miniature slump was a date with the fourth-ranked Xavier Musketeers (24-4, 12-3)

In the season's most significant Big East showdown, the Wildcats reasserted themselves as the class of the conference Saturday and downed the Musketeers 95-79 on the road at a charged-up Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Villanova, which topped Xavier by 24 points Jan. 10 in Philadelphia, improved to 10-1 against the Musketeers since the latter joined the Big East at the start of the 2013-14 campaign, as Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg noted: 

The win also snapped Xavier's nine-game winning streak and allowed Villanova to find its footing following losses to St. John's and Providence over the past 10 days. 

The Wildcats added the Top Five triumph to their resume thanks to positive regression toward the mean from beyond the arc. 

Although Villanova entered Saturday 17-of-71 on long-range attempts over its past three games, an awakening was in order for the nation's 19th-ranked three-point shooting offense even though Jalen Brunson scored just 11 points. 

With the floor general largely silenced, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman (11 points) and Collin Gillespie (10 points) picked up the slack and scorched the nets to the tune of 16-of-34 shooting from distance. 

Bridges, who dropped a team-high 25 points, set the tone with 16 first-half points as he darted around screens and knocked down contested shots with confidence. ESPN's Jeff Goodman and former Wildcat Kris Jenkins noted Bridges' potential:

DiVincenzo added 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and his 10 second-half points helped Villanova pull away after Xavier made a fierce charge and trimmed a 14-point halftime deficit to three midway through the frame. 

Xavier, which suffered its first loss since that January meeting with Villanova, got a game-high 26 points from Trevon Bluiett. 

The senior has scored 63 points on 15-of-25 shooting (11-of-17 from three) over his past two games and used Saturday's voluminous effort to move past David West for sole possession of No. 2 on the Musketeers' all-time scoring list. 

Xavier will close out its season with showdowns against Georgetown (Feb. 21), Providence (Feb. 28) and DePaul (March 3) before it attempts to set up a date with Villanova in the Big East final. 

The path ahead is a bit more daunting for the Wildcats, who still have road tilts remaining against Creighton (Feb. 24) and Seton Hall (Feb. 28) before they close out their regular season March 3 against Georgetown. 

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