Cincinnati — With the Big East’s bragging rights at stake, Villanova showed it’s not ready to relinquish its reign.
Mikal Bridges led an early 3-point shooting spurt that put Villanova in control, and the third-ranked Wildcats beat No. 4 Xavier 95-79 on Saturday in a showdown for control of the league.
As it has nearly every time, this one went to ’Nova.
The Wildcats (24-3, 11-3) have won all four regular-season titles since the league was reconfigured. Xavier (24-4, 12-3) had a chance to take control of the race, but simply wasn’t up to the Wildcats’ level in the biggest game of the season.
Now, Xavier’s lead is down to a half-game and Villanova has swept the head-to-head series.
“I think we wanted to send ourselves a message, not necessarily about the title race but about playing Villanova basketball,” said Dante DiVincenzo, who finished with 21 points. “We knew we weren’t playing Villanova basketball.”
Bridges scored 25 points in a balanced attack that got the best of a matchup between the league’s top offenses. Trevon Bluiett had 26 points for Xavier, which had its nine-game winning streak snapped. Villanova made a season-high 16 3-pointers, the most ever by a Xavier opponent.
“They hit a lot of tough 3s, but we’ve just got to play tougher,” said Xavier’s Naji Marshall, who had 11 points. “When you play elite teams, there’s little margin for error.”
The Wildcats ended their three-game shooting slump by making 11 3s in the first half, when they pulled out to a 19-point lead and silenced a raucous crowd at the Cintas Center, where Xavier had been undefeated this season.
“We came out together and played harder than we usually do,” Bridges said. “We’ve got to keep that up. We can’t settle. We can’t relax.”
Bluiett led a second-half surge that cut it to 64-61 with 11 minutes left before Bridges’ basket blunted the comeback. Xavier had a pair of turnovers, and DiVincenzo hit back-to-back 3s as the Wildcats rebuilt their lead to double digits and pulled away.
“When they shoot the ball the way they did today, it will take a monumental effort to beat them,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said.
In the end, it was like the last four games between the league’s heavyweights. Villanova has won 10 of 11 against Xavier in the Big East, the last four by margins of 25, 22, 24 and 16 points. Xavier hadn’t lost since an 89-65 defeat at Villanova on Jan. 10.
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(At) Baylor 59, No. 7 Texas Tech 57:Terry Maston scored 24 points, and Baylor ended the Red Raiders’ seven-game winning streak after the Big 12 leaders lost top scorer Keenan Evans to a foot injury in the first half.
Maston, who finished two points shy of his career high set in the previous game against Texas, hit the go-ahead shot with 1:26 remaining as the Bears (17-10, 7-7 Big 12) continued their push for the NCAA Tournament with a fifth straight win following a 2-7 start in the rugged conference.
Baylor moved into sole possession of fifth place, and Texas Tech (22-5, 10-4) dropped into a tie for first with No. 13 Kansas.
Freshman Zhaire Smith led the Red Raiders with 15 points, but had just two points and attempted just two shots after halftime.
Evans, the No. 2 scorer in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma freshman sensation Trae Young, limped off with 1:14 left in the first half and didn’t return.
(At) No. 9 Gonzaga 81, Pepperdine 67: Johnathan Williams had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Gonzaga held off last-place Pepperdine to remain in first place in the West Coast Conference.
Killian Tillie and Josh Perkins each scored 15 points for Gonzaga (25-4, 15-1 WCC), which has won nine consecutive games since suffering its only league loss to No. 15 Saint Mary’s.
Colbey Ross scored 21 points for Pepperdine (4-24, 1-15), which has lost seven straight.
Gonzaga has won 35 straight games against Pepperdine dating to 2002. The Waves have not won in Spokane since 1998.
(At) South Carolina 84, No. 10 Auburn 75: Frank Booker scored 19 points, and South Carolina built a 26-point lead before holding on to defeat Auburn, ending the Gamecocks’ six-game losing streak.
The Tigers (23-4, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) had won seven of their past eight and were heavy favorites to keep that going at South Carolina (14-13, 5-9). Instead, the Gamecocks used a 21-1 run in the first half on the way to a 37-11 lead.
Auburn played most of the game without starting forward Anfernee McLemore, who dislocated his left ankle in a gruesome-looking injury at the end of the first half.
South Carolina beat a top-10 program for the third straight season and defeated its first top-10 team at home since taking out No. 1 Kentucky in January 2010.
Mustapha Heron led Auburn with 16 points, just four of those coming in the second half.
(At) No. 13 Kansas 77, No. 20 West Virginia 69: Udoka Azubuike scored 21 points and Devonte’ Graham added 15 to help Kansas past West Virginia.
Both teams struggled to create much separation in the first half, neither establishing more than a six-point lead. After being tied at halftime, the Mountaineers (19-8, 8-6 Big 12) took the lead with 17:22 left and held it until the game was tied again at 66 with about two minutes remaining. The Jayhawks (20-7, 10-4 Big 12) wouldn’t reclaim the lead until Svi Mykhailiuk hit a pair of free throws 30 seconds later.
Daxter Miles Jr. led West Virginia with 22 points and hit 6-of-9 shots from behind the arc. Jevon Carter added 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
The Mountaineers had previously won 74 of their last 76 games when holding opponents to 69 points or less.
No. 14 North Carolina 93, (at) Louisville 76: Joel Berry scored 23 points, Luke Maye had 13 rebounds and North Carolina dominated the boards and second-chance points against Louisville for its fifth consecutive victory.
The Tar Heels (21-7, 10-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored 10 straight points for a 12-3 lead before warming up from long range to eventually build a 19-point cushion before withstanding several Louisville rallies.
Theo Pinson and Maye each had 19 points as North Carolina won its first visit to Louisville in five tries.
Louisville (18-9, 8-6) got within single digits several times but no closer than seven in having its two-game winning streak end. Deng Adel returned from a two-game absence with an ankle injury to score 20 points.(backslash)
No. 15 Saint Mary’s 73, (at) Portland 61: Jock Landale had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Saint Mary’s rebounded from a pair of losses to beat Portland.
Tanner Krebs added 16 points for the Gaels (25-4, 14-2 West Coast Conference), who have won seven straight against the Pilots (10-19, 4-12). With the victory, Saint Mary’s has its third straight 25-win season. Marcus Shaver Jr. had 15 points for Portland, which has dropped four straight games.
The Gaels sit in second in the West Coast Conference standings behind Gonzaga with just two more games to go. The conference championship tournament is set to start March 1 in Las Vegas.
(At) Georgia 73, No. 18 Tennessee 62: Yante Maten scored 19 points, and Georgia denied the Volunteers an opportunity to pull within a game of the SEC lead.
Derek Ogbeide had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Georgia (15-11, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) won its second straight in a late attempt to return to NCAA Tournament consideration.
Tennessee (19-7, 9-5) remained two games behind No. 10 Auburn, the SEC leader, which lost to South Carolina 84-75. The Vols have lost two of their last three.
Lamonte Turner led Tennessee with 14 points. Jordan Bowden had 13, and Admiral Schofield scored 11.
(At) Arkansas 94, No. 21 Texas A&M 75: Jaylen Barford scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half to lead Arkansas to its fourth straight win.
The triumph was the 10th straight over the Aggies in Fayetteville for the Razorbacks (19-8, 8-6 Southeastern Conference), who lost 80-66 in College Station on Jan. 30. It was also Arkansas’ third home win over a ranked opponent this season, joining victories over Minnesota and Tennessee.
Barford added five rebounds and five assists for the Razorbacks, who have won seven of their last nine. Daryl Macon finished with 20 points for Arkansas, the eighth time in the last nine games he’s scored 20 or more.
Robert Williams had 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead Texas A&M (17-10, 6-8), which lost its second straight after entering the rankings this week. Admon Gilder also scored 20 points for the Aggies.
Texas 77, (at) No. 23 Oklahoma 66: Dylan Osetkowski scored 21 points, Texas slowed national scoring leader Trae Young, and the Longhorns extended the Sooners’ losing streak to five games.
Young, a freshman point guard, scored 26 points on 7 for 21 shooting. Christian James scored 11 points and was the only other Sooner to score in double figures.
Kerwin Roach scored 12 points, Matt Coleman scored 11 and Mohamed Bamba added 10 points and 18 rebounds for Texas (16-11, 6-8 Big 12), which never trailed and swept the season series for the first time since 2011-12. The Longhorns, who had lost three straight, got a much-needed win to boost their NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Sooners (16-10, 6-8) shot just 30.8 percent overall and posted their lowest-scoring game of the season.
No. 24 Nevada 93, (at) Utah State 87: Cody Martin scored 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting and twin brother Caleb Martin added 23 points to lead Nevada past Utah State.
Jordan Caroline chipped in with 20 points for the Wolf Pack. Nevada (23-5, 11-2 Mountain West) shot 59.3 percent from the field – including 11-of-21 from 3-point range – to pull away from the Aggies.
Koby McEwen scored 32 points and Sam Merrill added 16 to lead Utah State. The Aggies (14-14, 7-8) have lost 14 straight to ranked opponents and fell to the Wolf Pack at home for the second time in five games.
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