Villanova Wildcats

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


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.

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.

How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

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How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama


PITTSBURGH — Mikal Bridges hit five 3s, scored 23 points and helped No. 1 seed Villanova put the field on notice that it's the team to beat with an 81-58 win over ninth-seeded Alabama on Saturday.

The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth -- and yes, The Big Ragu -- look every bit the favorite to make it two in three years.

Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.

The sport is still buzzing from top-seeded Virginia's 20-point loss to 16th-seeded UMBC on Friday night.

Alabama (20-16) failed to make it two No. 1s KO'd in less than 24 hours.

After a tense first half in a round that has given the program fits, the Wildcats hit their first six 3s in the second and put on a thrashing up there among the most dominant under coach Jay Wright.

Bridges, who averaged 17.9 points and played his way into a likely NBA draft lottery pick, scored 1 point and missed all five shots in the first half. He found his groove once the second half tipped. Bridges scored the first 5 points of the half and then finished a thunderous alley-oop on a pass from Booth that made it 41-27 and sent the Wildcats wildly waving their arms in celebration headed into a timeout.

Bridges hit his first three 3s in succession to cap an 18-1 run and a Sweet 16 berth was in sight.

Brunson added a 3 to make it 56-31 and the rest of the half was simply a countdown to Boston. Villanova made 17 of 41 3s.

The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 seed in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Villanova got a brief scare that it might add `18 to the list against Alabama.

The Wildcats live-and-die by the 3-pointer -- they say, "shoot em' up and sleep in the streets" -- and when it's on, look out. The Wildcats are as dangerous as any team in the nation.

When it's off, well, that's how they're so upset-prone in March. They missed eight of their first 11 3s in the first half and Alabama briefly grabbed the lead.

Donte DiVincenzo steadied Villanova with three straight 3s that brought a gasp from the crowd and gave the Wildcats a 22-15 lead. He threw in a fastbreak layup off his own steal and hit his fifth 3 of the half to make it 32-27.

DiVincenzo -- the redheaded guard nicknamed "The Big Ragu" -- scored all 18 of his points in the half. Villanova attempted 20 3s (made seven) out of 27 shots.

Villanova romps past Radford in 1st round of NCAA Tournament

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Villanova romps past Radford in 1st round of NCAA Tournament


PITTSBURGH — The fear naturally seeps into the thinking of players on top-seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament. Could we be the ones that finally lose to a 16 seed?

"I can't say it doesn't cross our mind at all," Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson said.

The answer from Villanova was an emphatic one: not a chance.

Brunson scored 16 points and No. 1 seed Villanova hit 14 3-pointers in an 87-61 romp over Radford in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.

The Highlanders (23-13) posed no threat at becoming the first 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1 in the tournament.

Villanova (31-4) played to near-perfection for the first 30 minutes and everyone played a role. Mikal Bridges had 13 points, Eric Paschall scored 11 and Omari Spellman had 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats play on Saturday against the winner of Virginia Tech-Alabama.

Radford, out of rural southwest Virginia, must have felt like it was playing against ace pop-a-shot players. Villanova led 69-37 with 11:45 left and was shooting 75 percent (25 of 34) overall and 60 percent (12 of 20) from 3-point range.

The Wildcats turned an NCAA Tournament game into a glorified scrimmage.

Villanova coach Jay Wright was a bit wary of what could happen when he watched Penn give No. 1 seed Kansas a brief scare earlier in the day.

"We're watching Penn, because my daughter goes to Penn. My wife's rooting like crazy for Penn," he said. "I said, `You're rooting for Penn. If that happens, my boy, (KU coach) Bill Self, will be dying.' But you do, you think about it. What you have to do when you're the 1 (seed) is do everything to fight off that distraction."

Radford's Christian Bradford opened the game with a 3-pointer and the bench erupted.

The players should hope someone snapped a photo of the scoreboard as a souvenir for the one time the Highlanders led Villanova in this game.

The rest of the half was pure dominance by the Wildcats.

At one point, Brunson had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Radford? Just 10 points on 4 of 20 from the floor.

Villanova started the game shooting 13 of 16. For those who struggle with math, that's a crisp 81 percent.

Phil Booth, Bridges, Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo all hit 3s in succession to blow open the game. Even when the Wildcats put the ball on the floor, they embarrassed Radford — Collin Gillespie juked guard Donald Hicks about out of his sneakers and the Highlander fell right on his behind.

Hicks led Radford with 13 points.

"They are a No. 1 seed for a reason. But this team right here is special," Bradford said. "We're a championship team for a reason. We never thought in our mind that we couldn't come back."

Radford won a First Four game to advance to Pittsburgh. The Wildcats just won the Big East Tournament in New York. With more shooting performances like this one, they'll win much, much more in March.

Big picture
Radford: The Highlanders still had a successful season. They set a school record for wins and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in program history. Radford was picked to finish seventh in the Big South preseason poll but earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Carlik Jones and Ed Polite are freshmen and should keep the good times going next season.

Villanova: Will try to avoid another first-weekend upset. The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017. They lost to NC State in the second round in 2015 in Pittsburgh in a game that spawned the birth of the sad Villanova band member nicknamed Piccolo Girl .

Time’s up
Paschall led the Wildcats with 29 minutes played. Wright pulled his starters and his top subs off the bench much earlier than usual to give them some needed rest. Brunson took a charge late in the game and, though Wright admired the guard's toughness, he wouldn't play much longer.

Totally Rad
Coach Mike Jones brought his team toward the Radford cheering section and waved and pointed toward the fans in appreciation.

"They didn't get a chance to cheer victory but at least they got a chance to cheer these young men," Jones said. "They got a great group of young men. Through the tournament, people got to learn a little bit more about them, but we got to be with them every day."

Up next
Radford goes home and the Wildcats try and knock off Virginia Tech (21-11) or Alabama (19-15) and advance again to the Sweet 16.