NEW YORK - Nearly a year after winning most valuable player honors in the 2015 Big East tournament, Josh Hart looks ready to make a case for a second straight award.
Villanova's 6-foot-5 junior scored six of his 20 second-half points in a 14-1 run that helped the third-ranked Wildcats gain control of a close game Thursday and carry them to an 81-67 victory over Georgetown in the quarterfinals of the Big East's postseason happening at Madison Square Garden.
The top-seeded Wildcats (28-4) earned a berth in the semifinals Friday night and will take on No. 4 Providence, a 74-60 winner Thursday over Butler.
Hart, a unanimous all-Big East first-team selection, stepped up from sixth man into the spotlight at last year's event here, averaging 17.8 points in helping lead the Cats to the tournament title. He exceeded that total against the Hoyas (15-18), going for a game-high 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting that included three three-point baskets.
He said he believes he's a more complete player this season.
"It's decision-making, rebounding, shooting, all those things," he said. "It's something they've been working on with me for the last several months. They've been on me every day in practice about decision making, about stepping up on the glass."
Villanova coach Jay Wright said Hart, who is a finalist for the Wooden Award as the nation's top player and the Jerry West Award as the best shooting guard in the country, can get better, but noted he's pretty darn good right now.
"I think he's one of the best players in the country in transition, in terms of finishing at the rim, getting fouled, finding creases to get to the rim," Wright said. "He's become a really good decision-maker in our half-court offense. He's one of our best defensive players and rebounders. That's a pretty complete player."
Hart received ample help from Ryan Arcidiacono, who knocked down five three-pointers en route to 19 points, and Kris Jenkins, who added 15 points. The Wildcats connected on 7 of 9 three-point tries in the second half and 13 of 21 for the game.
Senior center Daniel Ochefu, who reinjured a sprained right ankle Tuesday at practice, played only 13 minutes and did not score. The Wildcats received a great lift from 6-8 junior Darryl Reynolds, who had team highs of nine rebounds, four blocked shots, and three steals.
Hart got off to a slow start Thursday, with two early fouls limiting him to 12 minutes and five points. Things changed for him midway through the second half when he started heating up after the Hoyas, who gave 'Nova all it could handle for the first 30 minutes, took their last lead at 47-46 with 10 minutes, 32 seconds to play.
Hart launched the game-changing 14-1 run with a layup that gave Villanova the lead for good. He later hit a free throw and ended the spurt on a conventional three-point play with 7:32 remaining that gave Villanova a 60-48 lead. Georgetown never got closer than nine after that.
"I wasn't as aggressive in the first half," Hart said. "I was trying to go for offensive rebounds, and I had two quick fouls. So in the second, it was really about being a little bit more aggressive. We had 20 minutes left to be aggressive, lay everything out there. If you get in foul trouble, you get in foul trouble, just play as hard as you can."
Georgetown, which was led by L.J. Peak with 18 points, outrebounded the Wildcats, 42-30, but shot just 38.8 percent from the field.