Dan Gelston

Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth help No. 4 Villanova survive La Salle scare

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Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth help No. 4 Villanova survive La Salle scare

BOX SCORE

Duke's run at No. 1 ended with a court-storming loss at Boston College and No. 2 Kansas wilted in a rare home loss.

Undaunted and undefeated, Villanova is charging toward the top spot.

"We played the next No. 1 team in the country," La Salle coach John Giannini said Sunday.

The Explorers got a taste of how tough it can be to knock off the Wildcats. La Salle scored more baskets, sank more 3-pointers, had more steals and still was just another victim in Villanova's unbeaten season.

Phil Booth scored 18 points and Donte DiVincenzo had 18 points and 10 rebounds to help the fourth-ranked Wildcats avoid an upset in a 77-68 win over La Salle.

"They don't have bad games," Giannini said.

This was as close as one gets for the Wildcats (10-0). They were sloppy -- throwing the ball away several times on outlet passes -- slumped from the 3-point line and could not shake the pesky Explorers until the final minutes of the game to win their 21st straight Big 5 game.

The Wildcats had depth and a massive edge from the free-throw line to sink the Explorers. La Salle (5-6) was a two-man show in B.J Johnson and Amar Stukes, and that was enough to give them a 62-61 lead with 4:47 left.

But the Wildcats had Booth and DiVincenzo, and Jalen Brunson scored 17 and Mikal Bridges, quiet all game, came to life for crucial baskets late to seal the win. Throw in the whopping disparity from the line -- Villanova made 27 of 35, La Salle was 4 of 5 -- and the Wildcats made their case for why they should fight it out with No 3. Michigan State (9-1) to become the new No. 1 team in the AP Top 25.

"It's a great lesson for our guys. The score isn't always what the game is really about," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Booth put the Wildcats ahead with three free throws and followed with an assist on DiVincenzo's 3-pointer that made it 67-62 and finally gave them a bit of breathing room. Bridges, coming off a career-high 28 points against Gonzaga, went inside for a pair of tough buckets and a 71-64 lead that brought the Villanova fans to their feet.

"These guys have played in these games. They're not surprised," Wright said.

Johnson led the Explorers with 21 points and Stukes had 16 to help keep slim hopes alive of pulling off a stunner. The duo combined to hit seven 3-pointers and carried La Salle to the brink of victory.

"When we're out there and we started making plays, we felt like we could do that against anybody," Stukes said. "The shots started falling. We just had to play defense."

The Wildcats beat No. 12 Gonzaga by 16 points this week at Madison Square Garden and were expected to roll against the Explorers at the Wells Fargo Center. The foundation for their perfect record had come from the 3-point line; the Wildcats hit a school-record 19 against Saint Joseph's and buried 10 against the Zags. Against the Explorers, the 3s dried up in the first half. Villanova missed its first six attempts and missed eight of 10 overall in the half.

La Salle went the opposite direction in the first half. Shooting a miserable 29 percent from 3-point range this season, the Explorers went 6 of 12 to take a 38-37 lead. Stukes hit two straight 3s and his bucket a tick before the horn gave La Salle the lead at the break.

Villanova, La Salle, Saint Joseph's, Temple and Penn make up the city series field. The Wildcats have emerged as the class of the city and haven't been defeated by a Philadelphia-area team since Temple won on Dec. 5, 2012.

Big picture
La Salle: The Explorers lost for the 15th time in the last 16 games against Villanova. But a lot of teams lose all the time to `Nova. It's what the Explorers do from here that will define their season. They have two more nonconference games to shape up before they open the Atlantic 10 season Dec. 30 against St. Louis. The Explorers haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and will need more consistent performances like they had in the first half to get there again this season.

Villanova: The Wildcats win again. Even when the score is close, the outcome never seems in doubt against a city school. Los Angeles Lakers rookie Josh Hart, one of the stars of the 2016 national championship team, sat courtside and earned a standing ovation as the alum of the game. He trash-talked Johnson in the second half and laughed when the La Salle forward buried a bucket after their exchange.

Ouch
Villanova played without G Collin Gillespie because of a left wrist injury suffered in practice.

Up next
La Salle: Hosts Mercer on Sunday.

Villanova: The Wildcats finish the Big 5 season Wednesday at Temple.

Good news for Villanova: Phil Booth is finally healthy

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Good news for Villanova: Phil Booth is finally healthy

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Phil Booth can live with hitting only Villanova's second-biggest buzzer beater in a national championship game.

Let's throw it back to April 2016 in Houston.

"Five seconds to go in the half. Booth. He has time. Looks up, puts it up. And got it!" TBS announcer Jim Nantz said.

"Big time dagger. Booth!" analyst Bill Raftery said.

Just like that, Booth's jumper at the horn cut North Carolina's lead to 5 at halftime.

Nantz and Raftery are about as good as it gets in the broadcast booth, but let one of the stars of the game call this one.

"That was more of a scramble around. Clock went down. Josh (Hart) made a great block and I was just trying to find a spot. I was seeing guys coming down the court trying to catch guys in transition," Booth said as he watched a highlight reel on YouTube. "I saw the clock running, so I had to make a play; either pass or shoot it, so I found a spot at the foul line."

Kris Jenkins won the NCAA title with a 3 at the buzzer and stuffed trophy cases at Villanova's state-of-the art complex.

But ask your friends at a local Nova hangout such as Kelly's Taproom who was the leading scorer in that game, and you might win a round stumping them on Booth. Booth, now a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior guard, averaged only 7 points that season and was scoreless in 12 minutes against Kansas in the regional final. Against the Tar Heels, Booth scored a career-high 20 on 6 of 7 shooting (two 3s) and 6 of 6 free throws.

"I didn't really know or pay attention to how many points I had until I got to my phone and saw all the texts," he said. "I had no idea. I just knew we won the game."

Booth also knew he couldn't play much more on a painful left knee that even ached in warmups against the Tar Heels. Booth has no idea how the knee was injured; he just knows it wasn't the result of a direct hit and it started early in his sophomore year. He had surgery to repair a meniscus tear about a month after the national championship game and came back ready to help the Wildcats try and defend the title.

Booth felt an unrelated "flare up" on his left kneecap early last season and his year was cut to only three games. Booth against underwent surgery at the end of the season.

He missed Villanova repeat as Big East champions and was a helpless spectator when its season ended with a loss to Wisconsin in just the second game of the NCAA Tournament.

Booth is the only player wearing a suit, his hat backward and a T-shirt draped over his shoulder, in a Big East tournament championship photo that hangs in the hall of the basketball complex.

He's a future pro if healthy, and considered the risk had he pushed through the pain last season. Booth did practice at the end of the season before he was shut down near the NCAA Tournament.

"It was all about the long-term thing. It could come back. It could not," he said. "I decided to do the thing that was best for long-term playing."

Booth, whose father, Phil Booth Sr., is a Philadelphia native who starred at Northeast High School and Coppin State University, and Jalen Brunson are the only returning players who started last season's opener. Jenkins, Hart (a Lakers first-round draft pick) and Darryl Reynolds all left as part of the winningest senior class (129-17; 63-9 Big East) in program history. Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and Jermaine Samuels, widely considered one of the top high school recruits in the nation, kept the Wildcats as Big East favorites and a preseason national championship contender.

Booth has finished his rehab, but coach Jay Wright eased him back into workouts at the start of the semester. One day on, one day off. Wright, starting his 17th season at Villanova, said Booth will hit full speed with no restrictions next week.

"I'm as positive as I could possibly be right now," Wright said. "He's unique because I think he approached this with a long-term (view) to his career and his life."

Booth insisted his knees are fine and he's ready to help Villanova think long-term — all the way to the first weekend of April. His last basket against North Carolina put the Wildcats up 69-64 and had analyst Grant Hill raving: "How many times have we seen guys off the bench step in the finals and play big?!"

And that was on one bum knee.

With two good ones, Booth just may shine again in a title game.

Philly native Eddie Alvarez knocked out by Conor McGregor in 2nd round

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Philly native Eddie Alvarez knocked out by Conor McGregor in 2nd round

NEW YORK -- Conor McGregor knocked out Eddie Alvarez in the second round to win the UFC lightweight title and become the first two-class champion in the promotion's history.

McGregor dominated from the opening bell of the main event of UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night and the sold-out crowd roaring with each blow. McGregor is now the reigning featherweight and lightweight champ.

UFC has not decided if McGregor will be allowed to defend both championships. UFC President Dana White said McGregor could be about the only fighter in the promotion to handle that kind of fight load.

McGregor crouched inside the cage waiting for the bell to ring and attack Alvarez. McGregor was the clear aggressor from the start and dropped Alvarez three times in the first round. Alvarez, out of Philadelphia, bounced up the first two times and took a severe beating on the third. McGregor forced Alvarez to fight with his back to the cage and dominated the rest of the round.

McGregor placed his hands behind his back in the second, taunting and toying Alvarez to hit him. McGregor, UFC's biggest box office star, unloaded a left and ended the fight.

He demanded both belts and slapped them over his shoulder before he sat on top of the cage.

"I've spent a lot of time slaying everybody in the country," McGregor said. "I'd like to take the chance to apologize to absolutely nobody."

UFC was live and legal in New York for the first time since an MMA ban was lifted earlier this year.

"This is the biggest event in the history of MMA," UFC color commentator Joe Rogan told the crowd.

UFC stacked the card with three title fights that were expected to help set a gate record of more than $17 million at MSG. The 1999 boxing match between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield drew a record $13.5 million.

Tyron Woodley defeated Stephen Thompson via majority draw to retain his welterweight title in a fantastic fight and Joanna Jedrzejczyk successfully defended her UFC women's strawweight championship with a unanimous decision win over Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

But the night belonged to McGregor.

"What's next for me," McGregor asked inside the cage.

The easy answer: Whatever the Irishman wants.

UFC had never run a show in New York City because of a two-decade ban imposed by New York that left only unsanctioned and unsafe MMA fights in the state. State lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed in April to end the ban following years of failed efforts by MMA supporters. The law authorizing the sport took effect in September.

New York couldn't wait one more night.

MSG was packed with nearly 20,000 fans and UFC was on pace to set a gate record for the arena. McGregor, as he had been all week in New York, was the star of the show -- even with A-listers Madonna and Hugh Jackman in the arena. McGregor's fans wore Irish flag capes and his fellow countrymen sang "Ole Ole Ole" in the concourse before the show.

UFC last ran a major show in the state at UFC 7: The Brawl in Buffalo on April 7, 1995. UFC, under Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, exploded into a global phenomenon, become a staple on network television and ran PPV cards that hit 1 million buys during the ban. UFC 205 was expected to reach around 1.5 million PPV buys. UFC sold for approximately $4 billion to a group led by Hollywood entertainment conglomerate WME-IMG in July.

Tickets at face value and on StubHub only seemed to be selling for that much apiece.

The fans got plenty of bang -- and kicks, punches and elbows -- for their bucks.

Yoel Romero caught Chris Weidman with a flying right knee and finished him off in the third round with a spectacular, bloody knockout victory. Weidman sat loopy in the octagon as blood poured down his face and onto his chest. Romero sprinted toward the cage, flipped over the top and ran a lap in celebration.

Romero's win made him the No. 1 contender for Michael Bisping's middleweight title and they wasted no time hyping that potential matchup. Bisping was shown on the big screen and extended his middle fingers at Romero.

"It is an honor to be a part of UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden but now I want my shot at the title," Romero said.

Miesha Tate is out of title shots.

Tate, who played a pivotal role in the women's division rise to prominence in UFC, announced her retirement inside the octagon following a loss to Raquel Pennington. The 30-year-old Tate says the loss played a role in her decision.

"I had a lot more to give but I couldn't pull it out of myself," she said.

Tate defeated Holly Holm in March to win the bantamweight title and then lost the belt in her first title defense to Amanda Nunes in July.

Tate (18-7) had coached Pennington on "The Ultimate Fighter," a reality show used by the UFC to recruit new talent.

The Madison Square Garden crowd gave Tate a loud ovation following her surprise announcement.