Villanova Wildcats

No. 1 Villanova holds off St. John's

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No. 1 Villanova holds off St. John's

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NEW YORK — Donte DiVincenzo hit six 3-pointers and scored 25 points to help No. 1 Villanova silence a rowdy New York crowd and hold off upset-minded St. John's 78-71 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Shammorie Ponds came close to leading the Red Storm (10-8, 0-6 Big East) to their first win over a No. 1 team in 33 years. Ponds scored a career-high 37 points in front of 17,123 fans at the Garden.

Ponds punished his body as he crashed the lane for tough buckets -- going up-and-under and seemingly straight through defenders -- over the final 10 minutes that cut it to 69-65 with 1:18 left. He sank a rare jumper (all his field goals were 2-pointers) that pulled St. John's within 71-67, and suddenly the chants of "Let's Go Nova!" were drowned out by cheers for the Red Storm.

The Wildcats (16-1, 4-1) were flawless from the free-throw line over the final minute to avoid the startling upset.

Ponds, a 6-foot-1 guard who scored 31 points against Missouri in November, took just about every shot for the Red Storm down the stretch.

Once called the Michael Jordan of Delaware by coach Jay Wright, DiVincenzo simply wouldn't let the Red Storm get too close. Each time St. John's seemed set to start a game-changing run over the final 7 minutes, DiVincenzo buried 3s, hitting three that gave the Wildcats leads of nine, 10 and 11.

Mikal Bridges had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Villanova. The Wildcats went 13-for-30 on 3-point range.

Ponds was a one-man band for St. John's. No other player scored in double figures and his 15 baskets were two more than the rest of the team.

Jalen Brunson and Bridges hit 3s early in the second half to start to build a cushion and DiVincenzo added another 3 for a 10-point lead. That completed a torrid stretch of eight 3s on Villanova's last eight attempts.

St. John's hit one 3 the entire game -- one! -- and that snuffed any chance at a win. St. John's hung around for most of the first half and put checks in the boxes of things needed to do to beat Villanova.

Tariq Owens had a big block on Bridges under the basket that brought a packed MSG crowd to its feet. Bryan Trimble Jr. buried a 3 for a 20-17 lead and Brunson, one of the top players in the nation, fumbled the ball on the next possession. The Wildcats, who have seemingly fixed the defensive troubles that plagued them the last month, lost their 3-point stroke, missing 8 of their first 10 attempts.

The Wildcats pulled themselves together and showed why they're again the elite team in the Big East. DiVincenzo hit two 3s and scored eight straight points to give them the lead for good and Omari Spellman hit a 3 to send Villanova into halftime with a 34-27 lead.

BIG PICTURE
St. John's: Yes, the Red Storm were actually 10-2 on Dec. 20 and off to one of their best starts in two decades before this tailspin started. The Red Storm lost all three games on this homestand and there's little sign there will be an immediate turnaround. St. John's hasn't defeated a No. 1 team since Chris Mullin was in uniform, not the coach. St. John's beat No. 1 Georgetown 66-65 on Jan. 26, 1985.

Villanova: The Wildcats won their 13th straight game in the series. Villanova, the 2016 national champions, is rolling toward its fifth straight Big East regular season championship.

UP NEXT
Villanova puts its No. 1 ranking on the line Wednesday at Georgetown.

The Red Storm play another Top 25 team when they visit No. 10 Xavier on Wednesday.

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.