Villanova Wildcats

Villanova bounces back with milestone-filled night

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Villanova bounces back with milestone-filled night

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No. 3 Villanova had a week to stew over its first loss of the season, a 101-93 loss to Butler last Saturday in Indianapolis, and figure out a way to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of its mouth.

“We had a long week after getting our butts kicked,” Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said.

“No one was in a good mood.”

A trip home to South Philly, career nights from two less-heralded Wildcats and a typically steady night from the always-heralded Jalen Brunson was just what Wright ordered on a milestone night.

Eric Paschall tied a career-high with 19 points, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree added a career-high 10 of his own and Brunson added a team-high 27 (and eight assists) as Villanova held off a late Marquette surge to down the Golden Eagles, 100-90, at Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.

The win pushed the ‘Cats record to 14-1 on the season and 2-1 in Big East play. The Golden Eagles’ fell to 11-5 overall and 2-2 in the conference.

With victory No. 400, Wright inched closer to becoming Villanova’s all-time wins leader. Alexander Severance, who coached on the Main Line from 1936-61, is currently atop the list with 413 victories. If Villanova goes on another long tear, Wright could tie Severance as early as Feb. 21 vs. DePaul and vault past him as early Feb. 24 at Creighton.

Ever the spotlight-shunning coach, Wright, knee-deep in his 17th season at Villanova, predictably was coy when asked after the game about his achievement.

“I’m just happy we took a step defensively tonight,” Wright said. “I promise you, one day when I’m finished that I will look back on it with great pride. I promise you that. And I will feel really good about it. I’m happy to have been here that long. That’s really nice.”

Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski took a much different route when asked about the achievement of his Saturday evening counterpart. He went the effusive-praise route.

“Jay’s as good a coach as there is in the United States,” Wojciechowski said. “In my mind, he’s a future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer. The league right now goes through Villanova. I think he handles the mantle of being the marquee coach in our conference as much class and dignity as you can handle it. He’s created an incredible program at Villanova.”

On the court, the redshirt junior Paschall got the ‘Cats off to a burning-hot start with three early treys to help put overmatched Marquette into a hole the Golden Eagles never could claw their way out of. Villanova’s first-half lead reached as many as 14 points. For the game, it went as high as 17 early in the second half.

“The only thing I thought about was just to shoot it,” said Paschall, who entered the contest shooting just 25 percent from three-point land on the year. He hit all three attempts Saturday. “I don’t really think about that. I just have to play defense.”

Cosby-Roundtree, the 6-foot-8 true freshman forward out of South Philly’s Neumann-Goretti High, filled his line on the stat sheet on a perfect 5 for 5 from the field. All 10 of his points, including a huge dunk on a fast break, came in the first half when the ‘Cats built up their insurmountable advantage.

Cosby-Roundtree is set to have an expanded role in the coming weeks with fellow big Jermaine Samuels both on the shelf with a hand injury. If Saturday was a taste of what’s to come, Wright surely liked what he saw.

“Dhamir was awesome. I’m so happy for him,” Wright said. “It’s hard to come into this program as a freshman, especially as a freshman big. We need him. And he did a great job.”

It’s almost easy to take Brunson’s smoothness on the court for granted. Coming off a showing at Butler when he scored 31 points to match a career-high, he controlled the floor with his 27 points on 8 for 15 shooting 9 for 11 from the free-throw line and and steadied Villanova when Marquette pushed back in the second half and cut the lead down to as little as five as late as 43 seconds left.

“They’re a great team and they have a great point guard,” Wojciechowski said. “Any team with a double-figure lead with a point guard like Jalen Brunson, who’s as good a guard there is in the country, catch-up is not the ideal place to be.”

You want balance? Try this on for size: six Wildcats finished in double figures. That’ll get the job done.

The Wildcats knew they’d be in for a stiff test against Marquette junior guard Markus Howard, who made national headlines earlier in the week, and rightfully so, for his spectacular 52-point performance in a 95-90 OT victory at Providence Wednesday night. And Howard got his. He poured in a game-high 37 and led the late, ultimately unsuccessful Marquette scare.

“Markus just got it going,” Wright said of Howard, who went 13 of 27 from the field, including 5 for 13 from downtown, and 6 for 6 from the line. “It was almost just like the Providence game. Once he got it going, there’s just not much you can do. When you trap him, the other guys are good enough that they can make plays. You play him one-on-one and he jumps into you and creates contact and gets fouls. … We tried to take away his threes, but we gave up traditional threes.”

But, still, that wasn’t enough to topple the mighty Wildcats, who have now not lost two straight games since March 2013. The last time the ‘Cats lost two straight was when they dropped a 74-55 decision to Louisville in the second round of the Big East tournament and then absorbed a 78-71 defeat at the hands of North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament a week later. That was so long ago that Louisville as a Big East member is like ancient history.

“I never think about that and then every time it happens and someone says it to me, I think that’s really cool,” Wright said of his program’s incredible streak. “I like that. I like it a lot. I think it says a lot about our guys. I think it says a lot about the character of our guys.

“Every time you guys say it, I think, wow, that’s really cool. I like to say I take pride in it. But I don’t think about it. When you say it, I’m proud of it. But I’ll forget about it tomorrow.”

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned here is that win or lose a game, we’re coming back the next day to get better,” Brunson said. “Obviously, if we lose a game it’s going to refocus us a little bit. But we want to get better every time we step on the court.”

And the next time they step on the court, all the baby blue Villanova eyes turn to the game of the season this coming Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center when No. 5 Xavier comes to town for a titanic nationally televised showdown.

The Musketeers will likely not be as high as No. 5 after an 81-72 loss at Providence earlier Saturday. But still, Big East supremacy and bragging rights are on the line.

To the victor goes the jump-start to the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney. To the loser goes perhaps a season-long game of catch-up, as Wojciechowski said, is not the ideal place to be.

Bridges leads Villanova to massive road win over fellow top-5 team

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Bridges leads Villanova to massive road win over fellow top-5 team

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CINCINNATI — With the Big East's bragging rights at stake, Villanova showed it's not ready to relinquish its reign.

Mikal Bridges led an early 3-point shooting spurt that put Villanova in control, and the third-ranked Wildcats beat No. 4 Xavier 95-79 on Saturday in a showdown for control of the league.

As it has nearly every time, this one went to `Nova.

The Wildcats (24-3, 11-3) have won all four regular-season titles since the league was reconfigured. Xavier (24-4, 12-3) had a chance to take control of the race, but simply wasn't up to the Wildcats' level in the biggest game of the season.

Now, Xavier's lead is down to a half-game and Villanova has swept the head-to-head series.

"I think we wanted to send ourselves a message, not necessarily about the title race but about playing Villanova basketball," said Dante DiVincenzo, who finished with 21 points. "We knew we weren't playing Villanova basketball."

Bridges scored 25 points in a balanced attack that got the best of a matchup between the league's top offenses. Trevon Bluiett had 26 points for Xavier, which had its nine-game winning streak snapped. Villanova made a season-high 16 3-pointers, the most ever by a Xavier opponent.

"They hit a lot of tough 3s, but we've just got to play tougher," said Xavier's Naji Marshall, who had 11 points. "When you play elite teams, there's little margin for error."

The Wildcats ended their three-game shooting slump by making 11 3s in the first half, when they pulled out to a 19-point lead and silenced a raucous crowd at the Cintas Center, where Xavier had been undefeated this season.

"We came out together and played harder than we usually do," Bridges said. "We've got to keep that up. We can't settle. We can't relax."

Bluiett led a second-half surge that cut it to 64-61 with 11 minutes left before Bridges' basket blunted the comeback. Xavier had a pair of turnovers, and DiVincenzo hit back-to-back 3s as the Wildcats rebuilt their lead to double digits and pulled away.

"When they shoot the ball the way they did today, it will take a monumental effort to beat them," Xavier coach Chris Mack said.

In the end, it was like the last four games between the league's heavyweights. Villanova has won 10 of 11 against Xavier in the Big East, the last four by margins of 25, 22, 24 and 16 points. Xavier hadn't lost since an 89-65 defeat at Villanova on Jan. 10.

Big picture
Villanova: The Wildcats rely on their 3-point shooting but had been in a slump the last three games, going 17 of 71 from beyond the arc. They had their worst game of the season during a 76-71 loss at Providence , going 3 of 20. Villanova went 11 of 19 from beyond the arc in the first half on Saturday. After missing their first seven 3-point tries in the second half, they found their mark and pulled away, finishing 16 of 34.

Xavier: The Musketeers came out overly aggressive -- three fouls in the first 26 seconds -- and missed eight of their first 12 shots, including several layups. They've had bad first halves in their last four games against the Wildcats, leading to the double-digit losses.

"We were excited playing `Nova in our gym," Marshall said. "I think we came out a little too excited."

Big win
It was the second-largest win by Villanova against a Top-5 team under coach Jay Wright, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Getting heated
Villanova's Omari Spellman and Xavier's Paul Scruggs got technical fouls for yelling at each other during the Musketeers' comeback in the second half. The two had to be separated.

Big matchup
It was only the second time in the Cintas Center's 18-year history that a pair of Top 5 teams faced off. The other time resulted in Xavier's only win over Villanova in Big East play. The No. 5 Musketeers beat the No. 1 Wildcats 90-83 on Feb. 24, 2016.

Moving up
Bluiett surpassed David West for second place on Xavier's career scoring list with 2,140 points.

Up next
Villanova: Wildcats host DePaul on Wednesday, followed by games at Creighton and Seton Hall before finishing at home against Georgetown.

Xavier: Musketeers play at Georgetown on Wednesday. They beat the Hoyas in overtime 96-91 at the Cintas Center on Feb. 3. They finish at home against Providence -- one of the teams that beat them -- and at DePaul.

Another stumble for sloppy Villanova

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Another stumble for sloppy Villanova

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Providence will need to play its best basketball of the season down the stretch if its hopes to earn its fifth straight NCAA tournament bid.

The Friars just took a big step toward that goal.

Kyron Cartwright scored 17 points and the Friars withstood several late surges to stun third-ranked Villanova 76-71 on Wednesday night.

Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo each added 14 points for the Friars (17-9, 8-5 Big East), who snapped a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

It was Providence's first win over Villanova since Jan. 24, 2016. With the victory the Friars greatly improved their at-large resume for the NCAA tournament. They moved into a tie for third-place in the Big East with Creighton, who they split with this season.

Coming off an 80-63 loss to DePaul, Diallo said this victory gives the Friars' locker room a needed jolt.

"I think this was a big game for us confidence-wise," he said. "It's not every day you basically have the No. 1 team coming into your building."

Mikal Bridges had 19 points for Villanova, but fouled out with 1:12 to play in the game. Jalen Brunson added 14 points.

Villanova (23-3, 10-3) pulled within 59-54 on a pair of free throws by Omari Spellman with 6:25 left. But the Friars outscored the Wildcats 8-4 over the next two minutes to push the lead back to 67-58.

Collin Gillespie gave the Wildcats a chance after his layup trimmed Providence's lead to 72-69 with 29 seconds left. Cartwright then connected on 1 of his 2 free throws on the other end.

Villanova missed on its ensuing possession and was forced to foul with 20.6 left. Cartwright again hit 1 of 2, and Eric Paschall made a layup on the other end to make it 74-71.

The Wildcats fouled again with 12.8 left, but this time Diallo was able to convert on a pair of free throws.

"They just outplayed us. We were ready to go. They were just better," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I thought we would have played a little bit better. We didn't."

Spellman, who entered the night leading the team in rebounding, wore a protective mask after suffering a fracture to a small facial bone during Saturday's win over Butler.

He stayed active underneath the basket, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds. The extra opportunities helped the Wildcats outscore the Friars 44-20 in the paint.

But Villanova struggled from the outside, missing 17 of 20 3-point attempts. The Wildcats also finished with 19 turnovers.

"They were just really physical," said Wildcats guard Jalen Brunson, who finished with 14 points, but had seven of the turnovers. "We were giving up the ball. You gotta be strong with the ball."

Providence has five games remaining, including a trip to fourth-ranked Xavier.

Providence coach Ed Cooley said he's comfortable flying under the radar for now.

"We don't want to be talked about," he said. "We're the little red engine just trying to come up the street."

Big picture
Villanova: It's a setback for the Wildcats, who were trying to keep pace with conference-leader Xavier. They have now lost two of their last three.

Providence: The Friars still need to bolster their NCAA resume, but this is their second win this season over a top 5 team, having beaten Xavier last month.

Where’s the respect?
As happy as he was with the victory, Cooley said he doesn't think Villanova is getting the respect it deserves nationally in the polls.

"They should be the No. 1 team," Cooley said. "I'm tired of Villanova not being respected the way they should nationally. ... I don't know who's doing all the voting, but tell Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles they're looking at the wrong crew."

Up next
Villanova: Visits fourth-ranked Xavier in the second meeting this season between the possible No. 1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Wildcats beat the Musketeers 89-65 last month.

Providence: Visits Butler on Saturday.