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.