Villanova Wildcats

Amid Eagles frenzy, Villanova does what it does

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Amid Eagles frenzy, Villanova does what it does

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Jay Wright gave his NFC championship game tickets to his kids. They sent Wright and his wife photos from the Eagles' romp over the Vikings and texted updates on all the fun they had at the Linc.

Who wouldn't want to ditch the parents to root on the Birds?

Even Villanova's coach knows the top team in the nation is no match in Philly fandom compared to the team in green.

With Philadelphia swept up in a Super Bowl frenzy, No. 1 Villanova showed again why city sports fans can also brag about having the best team in college basketball. Just across the street from where the Eagles clinched a Super Bowl berth, the Wildcats used a 22-2 run in the first half to cruise to their sixth straight win, 89-69 over Providence on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (19-1, 6-1 Big East) are the only program in the AP Top 25 that plays in the shadow of four major pro teams that share a sports complex.

Philly is an Eagles city. The Wildcats, even with the 2016 national championship, are just along for the ride.

Villanova was forced to play this season at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the NBA's 76ers, because of renovations at its on-campus arena. The Wildcats improved to 7-0 in their temporary digs, even though the 20,000-seat arena drew only an announced 8,595 fans.

"It's starting to feel like this is our home court," Wright said.

Interest in college hoops doesn't really pick up around town until the Eagles' season is over. The Wildcats might have three more wins by the time fans start paying attention on Feb 5 -- give or take a possible parade date.

Eric Paschall led six Wildcats in double figures with 17 points, Omari Spellman had 16 and Jalen Brunson scored 15.

What the fans might have missed is Brunson, a first-team preseason All-American, playing his way into national player-of-the-year contention. The recent funk from Oklahoma's Trae Young could open the door for the Nova guard to take home some postseason hardware. He entered the game tops on Villanova in scoring, third in the Big East in assists and third in the conference in 3-point accuracy.

The Wildcats had off on Sunday and a poor practice a day before the Big East matchup, and they started in a 24-15 hole.

"They try to use their speed and quickness and they definitely took advantage of that today," Paschall said.

The Wildcats rallied to lead 39-30 at halftime. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges hit consecutive 3-pointers to spark the decisive run. Spellman, the preseason Big East freshman of the year, had a three-point play when he tossed the ball up in the lane and it rolled around the rim before falling through the net.

The Friars (14-7, 5-3) missed eight straight field goals midway through the second half, and Brunson and Paschal hit 3s that stretched the lead and sent the Wildcats on their way to their sixth straight win against Providence.

"I like the way we played for about 22 minutes," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "Every mistake, they took advantage of. I was proud of our guys in some sequences, but the breakdowns really hurt us and they took total advantage of that."

Big picture
Providence: The Friars' career record vs. No. 1 teams fell to 2-15 and they dropped to 1-3 against Top 25 teams this season. Rodney Bullock was the top scorer with 16 points.

Villanova: Outside of their 22-2 run, the Wildcats didn't really shoot that well. But the Wildcats entered tops in the Big East in scoring defense (64.8 points), and they kept Providence to 37 percent shooting from the floor. ... Bridges had 11 points and nine rebounds. ... Paschall and Bridges each had four steals.

He said it
Asked about the 22-2 run, Wright asked, "late?"

No, it only seemed like the Wildcats went on that kind of spurt in the second half.

"Oh, after we were down. Yeah, I didn't know it was that much," Wright said.

Up next
Providence plays the middle of three straight road games Jan. 31 at Seton Hall.

Villanova plays Sunday against Marquette.

Villanova knows better than to overlook next opponent

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Villanova knows better than to overlook next opponent

Previewing one of Villanova's final games of the regular season:

No. 3 Villanova (25-3, 12-3 Big East) at Creighton (19-9, 8-7 Big East), Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Third-ranked Villanova is getting healthy at just the right time. Wednesday's 93-62 blowout win over DePaul marked the first game since Dec. 5 that Jay Wright had a full nine-man rotation at his disposal. Phil Booth returned for the victory over DePaul, Booth's first game since breaking his hand back on Jan. 23.

Booth didn't miss a beat, scoring 14 points in 16 minutes off the bench. He provided his typical scoring punch in addition to being a steadying presence defensively. The fact that Booth should get four regular-season games under his belt before the Big East Tournament bodes well for Villanova. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wright continue to use Booth as a sixth man in order to leave Donte DiVincenzo in the starting lineup, where he has flourished over the last month.

While Jalen Brunson remains a leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors, Mikal Bridges has transformed into the Wildcats' leading man as of late. The reigning Big East Player of the Week scored 27 points against DePaul and is averaging 23.7 points in the last three games. Given the presence of Brunson, Booth and DiVincenzo on the perimeter, opponents can't afford to double-team Bridges. And there aren't many players in the country who can guard him one-on-one. Look for Bridges to remain in attack mode with March right around the corner.

Villanova has three regular-season games remaining. If the Wildcats win all three, they would win a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship. The next hurdle comes in the form of a trip to Creighton Saturday. The Bluejays have hit a rough patch with four losses in their last six games, including a 23-point thumping at Butler on Tuesday. But Villanova is well aware of how dangerous Creighton can be playing in the raucous CenturyLink Arena in Omaha.

The Wildcats will show the proper respect for Creighton despite the Bluejays' recent struggles. Look for the Wildcats to move one step closer to another Big East championship on Saturday.

Villanova 80, Creighton 70

Villanova cruises in Phil Booth's return

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Villanova cruises in Phil Booth's return

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Phil Booth returned to Villanova's lineup, and it looked as if he never left.

Booth had 14 points in his comeback from a broken right hand that sidelined him for seven games, and Mikal Bridges scored 27 points to lead No. 3 Villanova to a 93-62 victory over DePaul on Wednesday night.

Eric Paschall had 16 points, and Jalen Brunson added 11 points and seven assists to help the Wildcats (25-3, 12-3 Big East) beat DePaul for the 16th straight time.

Booth played 16 minutes, going 4 for 6 from the field and 2 for 4 from. He was injured Jan. 23 against Providence, had his cast removed Friday and practiced Tuesday.

Wildcats coach Jay Wright was pleasantly surprised at Booth's speedy recovery -- and his play.

"It's great to have him back," Wright said about Booth, who entered averaging 11.6 points. "It's a tribute to him. It looked like he never had anything wrong at practice. He looked good tonight, completely fine. It just amazes me."

Booth entered 2:53 into the contest and made his presence felt, scoring eight points in eight minutes to help the Wildcats to their 16-point halftime lead.

"It felt good to be back out there," Booth said. "A little rust but I wasn't worried about offense. My hand felt great."

Max Strus scored 21 points for the Blue Demons (10-17, 3-12).

The Wildcats had a comfortable 46-30 lead at the break. They surged to a 27-point advantage with 17:47 left in the contest by scoring 13 of the first 15 second-half points over 2:13. Bridges capped the run with a 3-pointer that made it 59-32 and practically erased any chances of a DePaul comeback.

"Our hands were down, we were late to a couple of rotations," Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao said of the Villanova spurt.

Leitao said the Wildcats have so many offensive options, and adding Booth makes it even harder to defend them.

"They are back to being whole," he said.

The game was tied at 16 after a Strus 3-pointer with 11:09 left in the half, but the Wildcats slowly and methodically pulled away.

Bridges had 15 points and Paschall added nine in the opening 20 minutes. Villanova was 10 for 14 from the free-throw line while the Blue Demons didn't attempt a foul shot. For the game, the Wildcats finished 15 for 21 from the line while DePaul was 0 for 1.

Big picture
DePaul: The Blue Demons need a victory in one of their three remaining games to reach four conference wins, which would be their most since joining the Big East.

Villanova: The four-time defending Big East champion Wildcats also have three regular-season games remaining. They are tied for first place with Xavier but own the tiebreaker with the Musketeers after beating them twice, including Saturday's 95-79 win at No. 4 Xavier.

Wright stuff
Wright recorded his 411th win at Villanova to close within two victories of tying Alexander Severance for first place in all-time coaching victories. In his 17th season at Villanova, Wright improved to 17-2 against DePaul.

Series dominance
The Wildcats have won 26 of the 34 matchups, with DePaul's last win coming Jan. 3, 2008. Villanova won at DePaul 103-85 on Dec. 27 in the other contest of this season's two-game series.

Strus for 3
Strus made three 3-pointers, finishing 3 for 9, to up his single-season total to 74 and pass Quentin Richardson for second-most in a season. Drake Diener, with 85 in the 2004-05 season, tops the list.

Up next
DePaul: Host Marquette on Saturday.

Villanova: At Creighton on Saturday.