(6) Villanova’s Defense the Winning Factor @ Providence

You can talk about flashy and high scoring offenses all you want, but the No. 6 Villanova Wildcats (22-2, 9-2) proved on Wednesday night against the Providence Friars (17-8, 7-5) in Rhode Island that defensive intensity and effort can win basketball games. Their relentless defense helped catapult them to a 74-68 victory on the road in the Big East.

Coached by an always well dressed Jay Wright, Villanova suffocated the Friars after made baskets with their full-court press, superb man-to-man principles and extraordinary team effort. The Wildcats’ jumped into passing lanes all night long, deflecting the basketball and giving themselves great opportunities to score in transition. Providence was scrappy on the defensive end as well, yet the sheer determination and intensity of Villanova was the difference in the outcome.

The Dunkin’ Donuts Center, nicknamed the “Dunk”, lived up to its name with a bevy of dunks from both teams on the night. In fact, Nova’s Daniel Ochefu dunked his way to a perfect performance from the field. Ochefu finished 7-7 on the evening, tallying 19 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal and a block. Offensively, the Wildcats’ unselfishness created open looks at the basket via the pass. Based on this style of play, virtually everyone in a Villanova jersey got an opportunity to put up points.

The orchestrator of their offense, Ryan Arcidiacono, scored 20 points on the evening, and Darrun Hilliard II chipped in with 16 points of his own. Additionally, Josh Hart and Dylan Ennis provided a spark late, drilling several open 3-pointers off of Villanova penetration.

Providence was led by LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn and Tyler Harris. Averaging 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1 assist per game on the season, Henton looked every bit the Friars’ premiere player en route to a 23 point performance. Dunn and Harris scored 17 apiece — the fantastic play of the trio was not enough to overcome Nova’s terrorizing defense.

Currently, Villanova boasts the top spot in the Big East, and Providence dropped to fourth in the conference with the loss. Nova will hit the road to face the Butler Bulldogs in Indianapolis on Saturday — ah yes, Valentine’s Day. Sitting at second in the conference behind Nova, do not expect a Valentine’s kiss from a very good 18-6 Butler squad.

The Friars will play host to Seton Hall on the day of romantic love –there will be no love lost in this battle.

*Photo credit to Stew Milne, Associated Press

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