Villanova Wildcats

Instant Replay: Villanova squeaks by Seton Hall to reach Big East tournament finals

Instant Replay: Villanova squeaks by Seton Hall to reach Big East tournament finals

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NEW YORK -- Josh Hart's follow of a Kris Jenkins miss with 9.6 seconds left gave Villanova a dramatic 55-53 win over Seton Hall Friday in the Big East Conference Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
 
Villanova, which trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half, rallied back, and after a furious last eight minutes that included four ties and six lead changes, Khadeem Carrington gave Seton Hall a one-point lead with a follow shot and free throw with 1:43 left.
 
Villanova had the ball with 18 seconds left still down one and Jenkins, the buzzer-beating hero of last year's national championship game, lined up for a three. This one missed, but Hart came soaring over Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado for the game-winning putback. He added a foul shot for the two-point lead.
 
Delgado missed a shot over Jenkins from the paint as time expired.
 
The game closely paralleled last year's Big East title game, when Seton Hall built an early 14-point lead, Villanova rallied back to take the lead, only to lose by two.
 
This time, the Wildcats made enough plays at the end to win despite a very ugly start.
 
Seton Hall took advantage of some terrible Villanova shooting to build an 11-point lead at 25-14 with 4½ minutes left in the first half.
 
Villanova opened the game missing 17 of its first 22 shots, and its five starters had just nine points after 15½ minutes.
 
But Villanova gradually began chipping away. A Hart three just before halftime cut the lead to seven, and a Mikal Bridges three on Villanova's first possession of the second half trimmed it to four.
 
The Wildcats took their first lead of the game at 41-40 with 9:18 left on a Hart steal and slam.
 
Neither team led by more than four the rest of the way.
 
Hart led Villanova with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Jalen Brunson added 13 points, including two huge jumpers in the final three minutes.
 
What it means
Villanova improved to 30-3 and Seton Hall fell to 21-11. This is the third straight year Villanova has won 30 or more games and the fourth time in school history.
 
This will be Villanova's third straight appearance in the championship game and eighth overall.
 
The Wildcats join Syracuse (1988-90), UConn (1998-00), Pitt (2001-04) and Louisville (2011-13) as the fifth school to make three straight appearance in the title game since the tournament's inception in 1980.
 
Villanova also reached the title game in 1981 (lost to Syracuse), 1982 (lost to Georgetown), 1988 (lost to Syracuse), 1995 (lost to UConn) and 1997 (beat Boston College)
 
The win was Villanova's third this year over Seton Hall after the Wildcats lost to the Pirates last year in the Big East championship game.
 
Seton Hall had won its last two Big East Tournament games against Villanova, in 2014 and 2016. This was Villanova's first since a 61-60 win in the first round in 2004.
 
Stat of the day
Villanova's five starters combined for just nine points in the game's first 15½ minutes, shooting 4 for 18 during that span.
 
Sick bay
Sophomore Mikal Bridges, who missed all but the first minute of the St. John's game on Thursday with a stomach virus, started and played 25 minutes, finishing with five points.
 
By the numbers
• Rodriguez led Seton Hall with 14 points and Carrington added 11 

• Kris Jenkins struggled again from the field, shooting 1 for 7 and 0 for 4 from three for four points.

• Villanova shot just 5 for 18 from three 

• The Wildcats shot 27 percent from the field in the first half (7 for 26) but 59 percent in the second half (13 for 22).
 
What's next
Villanova will play in the Big East Conference championship game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against the winner of the Creighton-Xavier game scheduled for later Friday.

Villanova moves up to No. 1 in the nation

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Villanova moves up to No. 1 in the nation

If you're looking for a sliver of good news on a depressing day in Philly sports, Villanova is now the No. 1 team in the nation.

The 10-0 Wildcats moved up to the top spot in Monday's AP poll, receiving 41 of 65 first-place votes.

Michigan State, Wichita State, Duke and Arizona State round out the top five, in that order (see Top 25).

Duke, the unanimous No. 1 team the last two Mondays, lost 89-84 on Saturday at Boston College.

Last week's No. 2 team, Kansas, moved down to No. 13 after losing twice last week to Washington and Arizona State.

Villanova plays twice this week — at Temple on Wednesday for a Big 5 showdown, then vs. Hofstra on Friday night. Those are the Wildcats' last two non-conference games before they begin Big East play on Dec. 27 at DePaul.

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

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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.