PHILADELPHIA -- Villanova lost five games last season, but still managed to capture the program's second national championship.
It's how a team responds following a loss that speaks volumes. This happened last season time and again with the fifth loss coming to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament title game. The result was a six-game run to a national championship.
The top-ranked Wildcats finally dropped their first game of the 2016-17 season, 66-58 at Butler Wednesday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Two days of practice and some time to regroup was more than enough as they dismantled Marquette, 93-81, Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
This year's Villanova team is clearly different than last year, but they can sure respond in the same tough manner.
"It was big and every game for us is our biggest game," said Hart, who also contributed seven assists and five rebounds. "We had a good couple days of practice and Coach (Jay Wright) was on us the last couple of days. We started out the game very well in the sense of having good Villanova basketball habits. I'm most proud of how we played Villanova basketball and set the tone."
Jalen Brunson contributed 16 points and Mikal Bridges had 15 for the Wildcats (15-1, 3-1 Big East), who rebounded from that loss at Butler in which they produced season lows in points (58) and shooting percentage (37.3).
This was a completely different story.
Villanova connected on 25 of its first 35 shots and finished 32 of 49. Even more impressive, the Wildcats hit 16 of their first 20 shots in the second half.
"I liked the way we made good decisions and everybody shared the ball," said Wright, who noted that the team had 24 assists on 32 made field goals. "It's how we want to play, how we normally play."
Markus Howard led Marquette (10-5, 1-2) with 21 points. Katin Reinhardt scored 15 points, Sam Hauser added 13 points and Jajuan Johnson had 12 for the Golden Eagles, who have dropped two in a row following a three-game winning streak.
They scored some late points down the stretch when the outcome had already been decided, so the score could have been more lopsided.
"I don't think our guys competed," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "I thought they were non-competitive. Not a good thing to be against Villanova."
Villanova led by 11 at halftime and began the second half the same way it did in the first half: by knocking down shots. Brunson, Jenkins and Bridges each hit a 3-pointer and the Wildcats quickly pushed their advantage to 53-33 with 17:33
remaining. Bridges' layup on their next possession gave Villanova a 22-point lead at 55-33.
The Wildcats led 68-40 when Eric Paschall scored on a short jumper with 13:03 left.
And the rout was on.
"We knew coming in that Villanova was going to be ready to play," Wojciechowski said. "That's what championship-level programs do."
Did they ever respond following that loss at Butler.
"It just reminded us that we can't be forced into that one-on-one play," Wright said. "I had to tell these guys that. No yelling or screaming. Show them. Tell them. They responded. We have great leaders."
Villanova started red hot, hitting its first six shots on the way to an early 16-8 lead. The Wildcats kept knocking down their shots and extended the advantage to 36-24 on a layup by Hart with 2:52 remaining.
Marquette hung tough and got within 36-29 thanks to terrific 3-point shooting, going 7 of 13 in the first half. Howard appeared to be fouled with 1:09 left and didn't receive a call,
prompting the Marquette bench to erupt in anger. The result was a technical foul on Wojciechowski.
Villanova took that momentum from the crowd and finished the half strong, leading 44-33. Jenkins led the way in the first half with 11 points while Hart added nine.
Villanova shot 15 of 23 (65.2 percent) and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line. Howard had a solid first half for Marquette with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
-- Villanova is now 47-34 all-time at the Wells Fargo Center, dating to the 1996-97 regular season.
-- Villanova G Phil Booth continued to sit out with tendinitis in his left knee. Booth hasn't played since Nov. 17 against Western Michigan in the Gildan Charleston Classic.
-- Marquette dropped to 1-10 all-time against the top-ranked team in the country. Its lone win came against Kentucky in the Elite Eight of the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
-- Villanova defeated Marquette for the ninth straight time.
-- The Wildcats will have a quick turnaround as Xavier visits The Pavilion Tuesday night.