Villanova Wildcats

No. 1 Villanova sets school record ... again

usa-jalen-brunson.jpg
USA Today Images

No. 1 Villanova sets school record ... again

BOX SCORE

The No. 1 team in the nation continued to show why it’s the No. 1 team in the nation.

Led by 21 points from Mikal Bridges and 19 from Jalen Brunson, top-ranked Villanova rolled to a 98-78 Big East win over a good Creighton squad on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Wildcats (21-1 overall, 8-1 Big East) have now won eight straight following their only loss of the season, a 101-93 setback at Butler on Dec. 30. 

Marcus Foster had a team-high 20 points for Creighton (17-6, 7-4).

• Head coach Jay Wright has been stressing defense in recent weeks but this team just keeps putting on offensive shows. In threatening to score 100 points for the fifth time this season, the Wildcats shot a whopping 54.5 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from three-point range with all five starters hitting double figures. In addition to Bridges and Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo had 17, Omari Spellman 14 and Eric Paschall 11.

• Villanova made 19 three-pointers, which ties the school record that was set earlier this season in a win over St. Joe’s on Dec. 2. 

• Unlike some teams who get rattled or scared vs. ’Nova, Creighton actually seemed up for this game from the start, taking leads of 6-3 and 8-6 before the first media timeout. It’s a testament to Villanova’s relentlessness for not only quickly retaking the lead but also never letting the Bluejays sniff the lead again.

• Villanova showed its three-point touch early in a cool way as four different players hit threes for the team’s first 12 points, including big men Spellman and Paschall.

• Spellman kept hitting threes, shooting 4 for 7 from distance for the game. That’s such a nice advantage when a 6-foot-8, 260-pound player can do that.

• Brunson showed again why he’s a national player of the year candidate. Fresh off a carer-high 31 points in Saturday’s 85-82 win at Marquette, the junior point guard came through with some big shots in the first half, including a four-point play that gave the Wildcats a commanding 40-22 edge. He also scored five points in a row after Creighton tied it up at 18-18 and had 17 points before the break.

• Although Brunson didn’t score as much in the second half, he had a rebound in traffic over 6-foot-11 center Jacob Epperson, got hit, and then threw it off Epperson while falling out of bounds. In many ways, it was a play that epitomizes Brunson, who Xavier coach Chris Mack recently said probably has “wires coming out” of his face.

• Bridges, who looks more and more like a lottery pick every day, is just so smooth when he pulls up for a jumper off the dribble. And his athletic drive late in the first half helped ’Nova take a 49-34 lead into halftime, from which Creighton would never recover.

• The bench play without Phil Booth (fractured bone in right hand) will likely be a concern as the Wildcats roll into March. But freshmen Collin Gillespie (eight points) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (six points) did a lot of good things as the only two guys Wright brought in off the bench. Gillespie hit a couple of threes and had five assists. And in one quick spurt in the second half, Cosby-Roundtree had a block, an offensive rebound and a defensive rebound (though he did miss a close-range shot). 

• One example of how much the Wildcats were clicking on offense: they had 13 assists on 19 field goals in the first half.

• The media members got a special visit from Creighton’s Toby Hegner, who crashed into press row in the first half. Only a cup of soda was injured in the fray.

• Some of the biggest cheers in the game came when Villanova’s walk-ons got some nice run in the final two minutes and senior Matt Kennedy hit a basket in the lane.

• This is the sixth consecutive season, and the 13th time in the past 14 years, that Villanova has recorded 20 or more victories in a season. Thursday’s win was their 150th, against only 18 losses, since the start of the 2013-14 season. That’s, um, really good.

• Wright won his 407th game at Villanova, moving to within six of the program’s all-time wins leader, Alexander Severance.

• Interestingly enough, Creighton’s last trip to the Wells Fargo Center produced a stunning 96-68 rout of then-No. 4 Villanova. Led by Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott, the Bluejays went 9 for 9 on three-pointers on their first nine possessions and finished with a school-record 21 for the game.

• This is a big week for Villanova, which returns to the Wells Fargo Center to host Seton Hall at noon on Super Bowl Sunday. Along with Xavier, Seton Hall and Creighton are probably the only teams with a real shot of knocking Villanova off its Big East perch.

• The Wildcats then stay home to face last-place St. John’s and Butler to round out a four-game homestand.

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

usa-omari-spellman-villanova-xavier.jpg
USA Today Images

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

BOX SCORE 

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

uspresswire-providence-rodney-bullock.jpg
USA Today Images

Another stumble for sloppy Villanova

BOX SCORE

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.