There is no telling if Villanova did enough Friday night to cement a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What was clear, from the scoreboard, was that the Wildcats cemented status as No. 1 team in Friday night's game. Considering what kind of game it was, that was enough for them.
"Being in the final in the Big East Tournament, that's the best," coach Jay Wright said after point guard Ryan Arcidiacono hit two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to earn a 63-61 victory over defending tournament champion Providence in the semifinals.
Villanova (31-2) showed why it is the top team in the conference, shaking off some shaky moments down the stretch. Providence (22-11) showed it still has the heart of a champion, coming back to tie from a five-point deficit with 1:06 remaining. The final four points were scored by Kris Dunn, who shared conference player-of-the-year honors with Arcidiacono and had 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
It was sharp mettle, both ways. "You've got to have guts, you've got to have resiliency," Wright said.
You've also maybe got to have some luck. The Providence part of the big, roaring crowd groaned when it saw that Arcidiacono was awarded two free throws on a drive to the basket. An argument could be made that the contact from Ben Bentil was incidental.
"At the end of the day, we have the best officials in the country. It was a 50-50 call. It can go either way. It just didn't go our way tonight," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "Credit Villanova. Great team. Deserving of the win."
Then again, you could argue that Josh Hart -- a standout again, leading Villanova with 18 points with 7-for-10 shooting -- was fouled on the inbounds play that resulted in Dunn's tying layup with 12.4 seconds left.
In any event, the Wildcats didn't panic in the huddle after they found themselves in a tie game, having led practically the whole night. "It wasn't really tough at all. We got in the huddle, looked at each other and said, 'attitude' and we moved on to the next play," said Hart, a sophomore whose three-pointer with 1:51 left had given Villanova a 59-54 lead.
That wasn't enough to shake the Friars and Dunn. "He's big-time," Wright said.
The Wildcats haven't been in the final since 1997. They got there this time with a big boost from 6-11 center Daniel Ochefu, who had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.
Villanova has a varied repertoire, which should serve it well. Should it be a No. 1 regional seed? One man gave his endorsement: "I don't think Villanova has gotten the respect they deserve on a national scale," the Providence coach said. Still, the Wildcats have one game left in New York. For tonight, that is enough.