Villanova Wildcats

Another stumble for sloppy Villanova

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Another stumble for sloppy Villanova


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Providence will need to play its best basketball of the season down the stretch if its hopes to earn its fifth straight NCAA tournament bid.

The Friars just took a big step toward that goal.

Kyron Cartwright scored 17 points and the Friars withstood several late surges to stun third-ranked Villanova 76-71 on Wednesday night.

Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo each added 14 points for the Friars (17-9, 8-5 Big East), who snapped a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

It was Providence's first win over Villanova since Jan. 24, 2016. With the victory the Friars greatly improved their at-large resume for the NCAA tournament. They moved into a tie for third-place in the Big East with Creighton, who they split with this season.

Coming off an 80-63 loss to DePaul, Diallo said this victory gives the Friars' locker room a needed jolt.

"I think this was a big game for us confidence-wise," he said. "It's not every day you basically have the No. 1 team coming into your building."

Mikal Bridges had 19 points for Villanova, but fouled out with 1:12 to play in the game. Jalen Brunson added 14 points.

Villanova (23-3, 10-3) pulled within 59-54 on a pair of free throws by Omari Spellman with 6:25 left. But the Friars outscored the Wildcats 8-4 over the next two minutes to push the lead back to 67-58.

Collin Gillespie gave the Wildcats a chance after his layup trimmed Providence's lead to 72-69 with 29 seconds left. Cartwright then connected on 1 of his 2 free throws on the other end.

Villanova missed on its ensuing possession and was forced to foul with 20.6 left. Cartwright again hit 1 of 2, and Eric Paschall made a layup on the other end to make it 74-71.

The Wildcats fouled again with 12.8 left, but this time Diallo was able to convert on a pair of free throws.

"They just outplayed us. We were ready to go. They were just better," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I thought we would have played a little bit better. We didn't."

Spellman, who entered the night leading the team in rebounding, wore a protective mask after suffering a fracture to a small facial bone during Saturday's win over Butler.

He stayed active underneath the basket, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds. The extra opportunities helped the Wildcats outscore the Friars 44-20 in the paint.

But Villanova struggled from the outside, missing 17 of 20 3-point attempts. The Wildcats also finished with 19 turnovers.

"They were just really physical," said Wildcats guard Jalen Brunson, who finished with 14 points, but had seven of the turnovers. "We were giving up the ball. You gotta be strong with the ball."

Providence has five games remaining, including a trip to fourth-ranked Xavier.

Providence coach Ed Cooley said he's comfortable flying under the radar for now.

"We don't want to be talked about," he said. "We're the little red engine just trying to come up the street."

Big picture
Villanova: It's a setback for the Wildcats, who were trying to keep pace with conference-leader Xavier. They have now lost two of their last three.

Providence: The Friars still need to bolster their NCAA resume, but this is their second win this season over a top 5 team, having beaten Xavier last month.

Where’s the respect?
As happy as he was with the victory, Cooley said he doesn't think Villanova is getting the respect it deserves nationally in the polls.

"They should be the No. 1 team," Cooley said. "I'm tired of Villanova not being respected the way they should nationally. ... I don't know who's doing all the voting, but tell Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles they're looking at the wrong crew."

Up next
Villanova: Visits fourth-ranked Xavier in the second meeting this season between the possible No. 1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Wildcats beat the Musketeers 89-65 last month.

Providence: Visits Butler on Saturday.

Villanova surges past West Virginia to reach Elite Eight

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Villanova surges past West Virginia to reach Elite Eight


BOSTON -- Villanova's 3-point party rolled past the intense pressure of West Virginia to bring the Wildcats to the doorstep of another Final Four two seasons after winning a national championship.

The top-seeded Wildcats continued their outside feast in the NCAA Tournament, downing the fifth-seeded Mountaineers 90-78 on Friday night to earn their second trip to the regional finals in three seasons.

Jalen Brunson led Villanova with 27 points and Omari Spellman had 18 with eight rebounds as Villanova overcame the West Virginia press by hitting 13 of 24 shots from 3-point range.

Daxter Miles had 16 points to lead West Virginia. Jevon Carter and Sagaba Konate added 12 each.

Villanova (33-4) has now made 44 3-pointers for the tournament. The outside barrage helped the Wildcats overcome 16 turnovers and played into their Sweet 16 plan for their opponents nicknamed "Press Virginia": Attack the stifling defense head-on.

"What a game, man. I hope that looked as good as it did from the bench, man," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "That was the most physically demanding, mentally draining 40 minutes we've played in a long time. They are so relentless."

The Wildcats struggled at times, especially in the first half, but dug out of a six-point hole in the second half with an 11-0 run.

The Mountaineers (26-11) stayed close throughout, ramping up the pressure and making Villanova play faster than it wanted to early. But foul trouble throughout the second half was too much for West Virginia to overcome after it gave up the lead.

Carter was called for his third with 17:33 left in the game. That was followed by Miles being whistled for his third and fourth fouls over a two minute stretch that sent him to the bench with 15 minutes remaining.

Coach Bob Huggins said the fouls "absolutely" stifled the Mountaineers' ability to keep pressure on Villanova.

"When the whistle keeps blowing it really takes away your aggression," he said.

West Virginia adjusted for a while, taking advantage of a more than three-minute Villanova scoring drought to take a 60-54 edge with just over 11 minutes left.

But Villanova heated up again. Its 11-point run was capped by a thunderous block and dunk on the other end by Omari Spellman that pushed the Wildcats back in front 65-60.

The Wildcats kept the momentum going, stretching the lead to 76-66 on a 3-pointer by Brunson.

"The deeper you go, the better the teams are going to be," Brunson said. "For us, most importantly, nothing changes no matter who we play, where we play, what time we play. We play every game like it's our last."

West Virginia never got closer than 4 points the rest of the way.

"I felt like we gave it everything we had," Carter said. "We just didn't make shots tonight and Villanova did."

Villanova led 44-42 at the half after a fast-paced opening 20 minutes. Brunson led all scorers with 16 points in the half, with West Virginia getting 11 points from Daxter Miles.

The Wildcats came out firing, connecting on their first seven field goals. They handled the Mountaineers' pressure well early. But the Wildcats had three turnovers over a 65-second stretch during an 8-0 Mountaineers run that put them in front 33-30.

Wright said he never lost faith in his team.

"I just looked at Jalen, Mikal (Bridges) and Phil (Booth) and I could see in their eyes we were good," he said.

Big picture
West Virginia: It's a tough loss for the Mountaineers, but it doesn't diminish the incredible effort by a senior class that reached the Sweet 16 three times in four years.

Villanova: The Wildcats are primed for another title run with their talent led by player of the year contender Brunson, the experience of the 2016 title and the lessons learned from early tournament departures in several years, including a second-round loss to Wisconsin last year.

Milestone watch
The Wildcats' 13 3-pointers give them 432 for the season, putting them 11 away from a Division I record. VMI hit 442 3-pointers in 2006-07.

No regrets
Despite the outcome, Carter said he is proud of his classmates' four-year run. Friday's game marked the 10th career NCAA Tournament game for Carter and Miles -- tying them for the most in school history.

Carter said the tournament will always mean a lot to both of them.

"It's everything. Everybody is in tune with March Madness. I feel like it's bigger than the NBA playoffs," he said. "Anything can happen in March. ... Unfortunately we lost in the Sweet 16."

Up next
Villanova will face Texas Tech in Sunday's regional final.

Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

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Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

VILLANOVA, Pa. — There were many reasons why Villanova was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And many more for why it's one of just two top seeds still standing.

The Wildcats do a lot of things well. They have depth, they can shoot from three, they defend, they are well-coached and they play hard. But perhaps their greatest attribute isn’t physical or psychological.

It’s experience. 

Of 'Nova’s core six, five were on the national championship team two seasons ago. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth played key roles on that squad. Donte DiVincenzo (injured) and Eric Paschall (transfer) were on the team but did not play. Having players that talented and that seasoned can’t be quantified. Not to mention a coaching staff still in tact from that title team. 

Between that run in 2015-16 and playing one of the toughest schedules in the country in a battle-tested Big East conference, there is nothing this group has not seen.

“Obviously the playing experience is most important but having coaches who have been in it," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said Monday. "Having guys like Donte, Eric, who were sitting out, be a part of that '16 run — that’s important, too. They learned a lot, they picked up a lot. To be able to share that experience with the young guys, I think that helps this team a lot.”

DiVincenzo agreed with his coach's sentiment.

“We’ve seen the biggest stage," the redshirt sophomore guard said. "Although myself and Eric were not playing, we were there and witnessed it and we know what it takes not only to win it but to get there.”

Next up for Villanova is the Sweet 16 and fifth-seeded West Virginia on Friday night in Boston. The Mountaineers begin guarding you in the parking lot. It is a 90-foot torture test of relentless pressure, end to end. A brutal matchup for any team.

But rest assured, Villanova will be prepared and won’t be overwhelmed. 

“No matter what the stage is, we don’t care," Bridges said. "You can put us anywhere, we’re going to play the same game. We tell the young guys, 'Don’t think of it as the Sweet 16, think of it as the next game.'"

It may be more than just the next game.

But the moment won’t be too big for this bunch that’s seen it all.