VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — After two subpar offensive games, all Josh Hart needed was to not focus on scoring.
Hart had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Kris Jenkins added 20 points to lead No. 1 Villanova over Butler, 77-67 on Saturday.
It was the seventh straight victory for the Wildcats (24-3, 13-1 Big East).
Hart, Villanova’s leading scorer at 15.0 points per game, struggled in the last two contests, scoring a combined 11 points on 3-for-15 shooting in wins over St. John’s and Temple. But he came alive against Butler, particularly in the second half when he scored 13 points.
His success against Butler came following Thursday’s meeting with coach Jay Wright, who told his star junior not to worry about his jump shot.
“He puts pressure on himself because he feels like he’s letting his teammates down when he’s not making shots because he’s done it for so long and carried this team a lot,” Wright said. “So when he’s not (making shots), he just feels like he’s letting everybody down. We just talked to him about you do so many other things, don’t worry about it. We value all the other things you do just as much.”
As a result, Hart settled down and his offensive skills came back.
“It was just focusing on playing Villanova basketball and not focused on defining myself by scoring, (but) defining myself by rebounding, giving energy, playing defense, doing all those little things,” Hart said. “When you do all those little things, everything else opens up for you.”
Kelan Martin scored 19 points for Butler (18-9, 7-8).
“We did some good things,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “We just didn’t do enough good things.”
It was the first time in Villanova history that a No. 1 team played at the Pavilion, the Wildcats’ on-campus home.
Butler erased a nine-point halftime deficit and took a 37-36 lead with a 12-2 run over the first 4:49 of the second half. Martin had eight points during the Bulldogs’ spurt that was helped by Villanova missing its first five shots of the half.
And the Bulldogs still had the lead, 45-43, with 11:04 left when Andrew Chrabascz scored on a layup before Villanova’s offense picked up.
Jenkins and Hart combined on the next 16 Wildcats points and Hart’s 3 with 7:18 remaining put Villanova ahead 59-51. The Bulldogs never got closer than six points the rest of the way as Villanova ended the game by making 13 of its last 21 shots.
Hart finished 8 for 16 from the field, including 3 for 8 from the behind arc. He has scored in double figures in all but the last two games this season.
Wright said Villanova’s games with Butler never are easy — nor a thing of beauty.
“We just have grinders with them,” he said. “It’s not pretty, but if you’re looking for pretty you’re not going to beat Butler. We’ll take it and move on.”
Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu were honored before the game, along with Villanova’s other seniors, on Senior Day. The duo has been part of 106 victories, the most by a single class in program history.
“It was special, something I’ll never forget,” Arcidiacono said. “This will be a day I’ll cherish. And I’m glad we were able to come out with a win.”
Arcidiacono finished with nine points and nine assists while Ochefu contributed six points and eight rebounds.
Butler: Six of Butler’s eight Big East losses have come against ranked opponents. … F Jackson Davis slipped on a drive with 3 minutes left in the first half and appeared to injure his groin. Davis returned late in the second half. . The Bulldogs, who started 11-1, are on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament although Wright feels they should get in. “They are definitely an NCAA tourney team,” he said.
Villanova: The Wildcats improved to 7-0 all-time against Butler. … Villanova won its 37th straight game at the Pavilion, where it is 281-61 all-time. … The Wildcats swept the season series, defeating the Bulldogs 60-55 on Jan. 10 at Butler.
Butler: At Georgetown next Saturday.
Villanova: At No. 8 Xavier on Wednesday.