Villanova Wildcats

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.

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.