Villanova tops Providence for 2nd straight Big East title
By DAN GELSTON
NEW YORK (AP) As confetti fluttered down on a court still simmering from an epic title game, Jay Wright wrapped his arms around several Wildcats. While his current crop of stars got ready to climb a ladder and snip the net again, Wright celebrated with NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry and a slew of other former players who had sat behind the bench in a scene that bridged the start of Villanova's ascent into a powerhouse with this season's Big East Tournament champions.
"I wanted them to be up there and a part of it," Wright said. "I wanted our young guys to see how much pride they take in them and in following them."
They could follow Villanova straight to the Final Four.
Mikal Bridges scored 25 points and hit two 3-pointers in overtime to lift No. 2 Villanova to a 76-66 win over Providence in the Big East title game Saturday night.
The Wildcats (30-4) won their second straight Big East Tournament and third in four years (losing in the 2016 final). They put a bow on a fantastic season that should have them earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Villanova had rolled to a pair of dominant victories in the tourney and held off a pesky Providence team that finally wilted late in its third straight overtime game.
The fifth-seeded Friars (21-13) rallied in the second half from another double-digit hole and seemed set to pull off one more upset and earn the automatic NCAA berth. Providence erased a 17-point deficit in the second half to beat top-seeded Xavier to reach the final. With one stunning rally on its resume, Providence nearly made it two.
Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson tied it for Villanova with two free throws.
Providence missed a last-gasp shot at the buzzer.
Bridges, who scored 25 points, opened overtime with a 3 and hit another that helped stretch the lead for good. Brunson tied a career high with 31 points on an emphatic dunk that sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy.
Brunson proved his worth as the best in the conference. He hit four 3s and made 12 of 23 overall from the floor, showing on the national stage why he's a candidate for national player of the year.
"It's an amazing environment and sometimes you can crumble," Brunson said. "Sometimes things don't go your way, but how are you going to respond to that? I've been a part of great teams with great leaders who've responded to different situations that have helped me through this process."
Ed Cooley coached Providence in the second half with a towel fashioned into a skirt and tucked in his waist after his pants split.
"When I sat down, I felt the great breeze in the crack," he said.
The side-splitting fashion statement almost worked as a rally towel.
Cartwright put Providence's comeback in overdrive when he hit a 3 that made it 51-46 and had Cooley smiling and clapping on the sideline. He loved it even more when Cartwright came right back and hit another 3 that pulled the Friars within two.
Drew Edwards flexed his biceps when he was fouled on a tying basket and had the crowd chanting "Let's Go Friars!" headed into a timeout. He sank the free throw to give Providence its first lead of the game, 52-51.
The Wildcats snatched the lead back and Bridges buried a 3 from the top of the arc that sent the team bench to its feet. Brunson was whistled next time down for an offensive foul and Wright twirled and stretched his arms toward the sky in protest.
"It was old school Big East," Wright said.
Providence kept on coming.
The Friars had defeated three top-five teams this season and were soaring following overtime victories against Creighton and the Musketeers to reach the final. The Friars are the first team in the Big East Tournament to play three straight overtime games.
"It told me my team is tough, resilient, passionate," Cooley said.
Diallo led Providence with 22 points and 10 rebounds and Cartwright scored 19.
Providence: The Friars need some rest following a grueling weekend in New York.
Villanova: The Wildcats are the best in the Big East. What else is new?
Providence: The Friars are headed to their fifth straight NCAA Tournament. Since its trip to the Final Four in 1987, Providence had made only six tourney appearances from 1988 to 2013.
Villanova: The Wildcats should be a No. 1 seed in the tournament. They lost on the opening weekend in 2014, 2015 and 2017. In 2016? They won the national championship.
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Updated March 10, 2018