Villanova Wildcats

Jalen Brunson shows what he's not afraid of for Villanova

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Jalen Brunson shows what he's not afraid of for Villanova


NEWARK, N.J. — On Wednesday morning, Jalen Brunson was named a semifinalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year award. But for a large portion of Wednesday night's matchup with Seton Hall, Brunson didn't have the look of one of the 10 best players in the country. 

In the first 36-plus minutes of action, the junior guard had just two points and zero assists, while missing eight of his nine shots from the field.

But in the game's late stages with the Wildcats needing him most, Brunson looked every bit of one of the nation's top players. 

Mixing in clutch jumpers and free throws, Brunson scored 12 of his 14 points in the final eight-plus minutes of action to lead No. 4 Villanova to a 69-68 OT win over Seton Hall at the Prudential Center (see observations)

"That's the sign of a great player," head coach Jay Wright said. "He's not afraid to fail. He loves having the pressure on him and on his shoulders. That's what the great ones do. That was vintage Jalen Brunson. Just no fear of failure."

After a rough offensive performance from both sides in the first half, Villanova jumped out to an 11-point lead at 36-25 with over 12 minutes remaining and appeared well on its way to an easy win. But Seton Hall responded with a 14-2 run of its own to get itself right back in the game.

With the Wildcats holding a one-point advantage with under four minutes remaining and Seton Hall refusing to back down, Brunson began cooking. 

Brunson would trade a trio of clutch buckets (one layup and two jumpers) with the Pirates over the next couple minutes of play, giving Villanova a 50-49 lead with 1:05 remaining. 

"Honestly, the shots [just] went in," Brunson said. "Just lucky that those shots were going in. I kept my confidence and kept my cool."

While Brunson missed a key front end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds remaining, which was followed by Khadeen Carrington splitting a pair of free throws to send the game into OT, the 'Nova guard carried his hot shooting into the overtime period, hitting back-to-back jumpers to give Villanova a five-point lead with 35 seconds left.

Then, with 'Nova up one and six seconds on the clock, Brunson returned to the free throw line and drilled both attempts this time around.

After struggling all night, Brunson made five of his final six shot attempts and two gigantic free throws to lead Villanova past Seton Hall.

"My teammates have the confidence in me at all times," Brunson said. "So does my coach and so do I. I just try to keep the same cool and not really worry about what happened in the past. Just keep moving on."

"He's a big-time player," said Mikal Bridges, who poured in a team-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, "[With] him, it's all attitude. He missed a lot of shots, but still had that free mind where, like, 'Who cares? It's my next shot. I'm gonna take that next shot anyway.' Proud of him. He made big buckets and played real good on defense." 

With the win, Villanova avoided a second straight loss and kept itself alive for the top seed in the Big East Tournament heading into the final weekend of the regular season. And while it certainly wasn't pretty — Villanova shot at a 36.4 percent clip and connected on just 8 of its 36 threes — Brunson and the Wildcats believe Wednesday night's offensive struggle will better prepare them for the upcoming postseason play. 

"Beleive it or not, I would rather not have played the game like that, but we needed to play in a game like that," Wright said. "Where we just couldn't make shots and our defense kept us in it."

"This is a great game, a great defensive game for us. Something we really needed," Brunson added. "For us to struggle like that offensively and still stick together is something we definitely needed. We just gotta keep building off that."

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.

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.