Villanova Wildcats

Jalen Brunson returning to Villanova for junior season

Jalen Brunson returning to Villanova for junior season

Jalen Brunson will return to Villanova for his junior season.

The school made the announcement Thursday, ending speculation that the Wildcats' star point guard would declare for the NBA draft or at least go through the process before making a decision, as former teammates Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins did a year ago.

“Jalen is an outstanding student who loves being at Villanova and wants to complete his degree by the end of his junior year,” Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “This was a simple decision made by Jalen’s family. Jalen wants to graduate, be a leader on this year’s team, and compete for a championship.”

Brunson averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists last season as the Wildcats won the Big East regular season and tournament championship. They were upset by Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament and finished 32-4.

His return means the Wildcats will be expected to make another deep tournament run. Villanova loses seniors Hart, Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds but still has plenty of talent coming back in Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and coming in with Omari Spellman and freshmen Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels.

Villanova routs UConn behind strong defense

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Villanova routs UConn behind strong defense

BOX SCORE

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Top-ranked Villanova didn't shoot particularly well against UConn, but routed their former Big East rivals thanks to defense and rebounding.

Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench to lead the Wildcats to an 81-61 win, completing their non-conference schedule at 13-0.

Jalen Adams scored 19 and Christian Vital had 15 for UConn (10-9), which has now lost five games this season by at least 20 points.

The Wildcats (18-1) hit just two of their first 13 shots, but still led 13-5 early after seven offensive boards and a pair of 3-pointers by DiVincenzo.

A jumper from Adams brought the Huskies within five points at 21-16, but that would be the last time UConn threatened.

"We weren't really too worried about it," DiVincenzo said. "We were just trying to get back on the defensive end and just get stops. I think after that we missed four or five straight, but we got back to the offensive glass every time."

Villanova scored 18 of the final 20 points before intermission and the rout was on. A lob from Brunson to Eric Paschell gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead at 26-16. They headed to halftime up 39-18 and the sellout crowd serenaded the Huskies with a chorus of boos .

Another 3-pointer from DiVincenzo gave Villanova a 70-39 lead midway through the second half , and sent many of those same fans to the exits.

"When we separated, we got it going off our defense," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "Jay (Brunson) got some steals, (Phil) Booth got some steals, kicked ahead to Jay. So, I think it was still our defensive rebounding."

Since the breakup of the old Big East, both teams have won national titles -- UConn in 2014 and Villanova in 2016. But the programs seem to be headed in opposite directions. The Wildcats are 147-18 since joining the new Big East and 50-5 since the start of the 2016-17season. UConn is 103-60 in the same span, but just 26-26 the last two seasons.

"We've just got to keep fighting," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. "We can go down the list of what we need. I wish I had a 7-footer, 7-2 guy. I wish I had a premier, all athletes, all shooters. But at the end of the day, we got heart."

Big picture
Villanova: Villanova shot 41 percent, well below their season average of just under 52 percent. But they held the Huskies to 34 percent and outrebounded UConn 48-32, including 16-8 on the offensive end.

The Wildcats are 62-3 in regular-season non-conference games since 2013-14.

UConn: Terry Larrier, who had been averaging better than 15 points per game, took an elbow to the face this month against UCF and has been suffering headaches that caused him to miss Tuesday's loss at Memphis. He was diagnosed with a fracture to his sinus wall and wore a mask on Saturday, scoring six points in 34 minutes. Ollie said Larrier will undergo surgery this week and is expected to miss between a week and 10 days if all goes well.

All five fingers in
Brunson started the game 1 of 7 from the floor, before making eight of his last nine shots. Wright praised the All-American, for his maturity and leadership qualities, joking that he also keeps himself impeccable and "his mittens are nice and perfect." Brunson was quick to correct his coach, noting that he would never wear mittens and prefers gloves with fabric that allows him to use his phone.

But, "when it comes to basketball, I'm all in, all serious and all for the team."

Chasing history
Wright needs just 10 more wins to become Villanova's winningest coach. Alexander Severance had 413 wins between 1936 and 1961. Wright is now 404-162 with the Wildcats.

Up next
Villanova: The Wildcats return to Big East action on Tuesday, hosting Providence.

UConn. The Huskies return to campus on Thursday to host SMU.

Villanova still sitting pretty in the AP poll

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Villanova still sitting pretty in the AP poll

Villanova is getting pretty accustomed to this whole No. 1 thing.

For the fifth time in the last six weeks, head coach Jay Wright's Wildcats are No. 1 in the AP poll, receiving 63 of 65 first-place votes this time around. This week's spot on college basketball's top perch came after a successful week that saw the 'Cats smother then-No.10 Xavier, 89-65, on Wednesday evening at the Wells Fargo Center. The Musketeers fell to No. 11 after the defeat. Villanova followed that up by holding off a feisty St. John's squad, 78-71, at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The Wildcats sport this No. 1 ranking heading into their own rivalry week this week. They head to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to battle historic Big East rival Georgetown, led by first-year head coach and Hoya great Patrick Ewing. The Hoyas are 12-5 on the season, but just 2-4 in conference play. They most recently fell to No. 19 Seton Hall this past Saturday. After that, it's on to Connecticut for an old-school Big East matchup with the Huskies. The teams last met in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, a game UConn won on its way to the national championship. Villanova, though, holds a 33-31 all-time advantage.

As for the rest of this week's top five, Virginia moved up a spot to No. 2, Purdue jumped up to No. 3, Oklahoma shot up five spots to No. 4. and Duke crept up to No. 5.

Click here to view this week's top 25 poll in its entirety.