Villanova Wildcats

No. 1 Villanova shows just how scary it can be

ap-phil-booth-villanova.jpg
AP Images

No. 1 Villanova shows just how scary it can be

BOX SCORE

In some ways, Wednesday’s top-10 showdown at the Wells Fargo Center failed to live up to its billing.

Blame Villanova’s dominance.

Phil Booth poured in 21 points to lead the top-ranked Wildcats to an 89-65 rout of No. 10 Xavier. Jalen Brunson added 17 points and five assists for the Wildcats (15-1 overall, 3-1 Big East), who returned to the No. 1 spot in the rankings Monday.

Kerem Kanter scored a team-high 16 for the Musketeers (15-3, 3-2), who have now dropped two straight despite looking like one of the best teams in the nation over the first couple of months of the season.

• As they’re prone to do, the Wildcats set the tone early with a couple of quick three-pointers and an Omari Spellman block within the first two minutes. That’s a good indicator as to how well-coached and well-prepared the ’Cats always are, no matter the opponent.

• Booth led the charge early with 11 points in the first six and a half minutes. He shot a cool 8 for 11 and 5 for 8 from three-point range for the game.

• Doesn’t it seem like this team just doesn’t miss sometimes? Xavier leads the Big East in field goal percentage defense (.401), but ’Nova was able to solve it with ease by shooting 55.2 percent from the field. The Wildcats’ second-half shooting percentage (62.1) was even better.

• Villanova, which had been averaging 89.3 points per game in its first three Big East games, also dialed up the defensive intensity by holding Xavier to 65 points on 41.4 percent shooting. The Wildcats also scored 18 points off 15 Xavier turnovers (see story).

• The play of the game probably came midway through the first half when a Donte DiVincenzo (11 points) steal set up a Booth-to-Eric-Paschall (14 points) alley-oop that brought down the house and gave Villanova a commanding 22-9 lead.

• Xavier — a very good team that’s coming off an Elite Eight run last March — managed to initially hang around, scoring six quick points after the alley-oop. But the packed Wells Fargo Center crowd, sensing a shift in the momentum, picked up the noise and Brunson responded to end a four-minute scoring drought.

• Surprisingly, the Musketeers never really got too close again — a familiar trend for a team that, despite all its success, has beaten ’Nova only once since the new iteration of the Big East began in 2013 and often gets blown out.

• Trevon Bluiett, who ranks fifth in the Big East in scoring, was held to 11 points and struggled to make an impact. J.P. Macura, a standout senior, scored only five. 

• A highlight for Xavier came midway through the first half with a soaring one-handed dunk for Naji Marshall. But the Wildcats responded shortly after with a Booth dunk to restore the momentum in their favor and take the drama out of the second half.

• If any team can end Villanova’s four-year run as Big East regular-season champs, you still gotta think it’s Xavier — although with two conference losses, the Musketeers may need to be close to perfect the rest of the way. Creighton and Seton Hall, also in the Top 25, will of course be contenders, too.

• Jay Wright, fresh off his milestone victory in Saturday’s 100-90 win over Marquette, now has 401 wins at Villanova. He’s 13 away from matching the all-time mark set by Alexander Severance, who won 413 games from 1936-61.

• Villanova hits the road for its next three games, traveling to St. John’s, Georgetown and UConn before returning to the Wells Fargo Center to face Providence on Jan. 23. 

• There must be a big playoff game coming up or something. A few E-A-G-L-E-S chants broke out in the final minute of the game as Villanova’s walk-ons duked it out on the floor.

Villanova cruises in Phil Booth's return

uspresswire-villanova-phil-booth.jpg
USA Today Images

Villanova cruises in Phil Booth's return

BOX SCORE

Phil Booth returned to Villanova's lineup, and it looked as if he never left.

Booth had 14 points in his comeback from a broken right hand that sidelined him for seven games, and Mikal Bridges scored 27 points to lead No. 3 Villanova to a 93-62 victory over DePaul on Wednesday night.

Eric Paschall had 16 points, and Jalen Brunson added 11 points and seven assists to help the Wildcats (25-3, 12-3 Big East) beat DePaul for the 16th straight time.

Booth played 16 minutes, going 4 for 6 from the field and 2 for 4 from. He was injured Jan. 23 against Providence, had his cast removed Friday and practiced Tuesday.

Wildcats coach Jay Wright was pleasantly surprised at Booth's speedy recovery -- and his play.

"It's great to have him back," Wright said about Booth, who entered averaging 11.6 points. "It's a tribute to him. It looked like he never had anything wrong at practice. He looked good tonight, completely fine. It just amazes me."

Booth entered 2:53 into the contest and made his presence felt, scoring eight points in eight minutes to help the Wildcats to their 16-point halftime lead.

"It felt good to be back out there," Booth said. "A little rust but I wasn't worried about offense. My hand felt great."

Max Strus scored 21 points for the Blue Demons (10-17, 3-12).

The Wildcats had a comfortable 46-30 lead at the break. They surged to a 27-point advantage with 17:47 left in the contest by scoring 13 of the first 15 second-half points over 2:13. Bridges capped the run with a 3-pointer that made it 59-32 and practically erased any chances of a DePaul comeback.

"Our hands were down, we were late to a couple of rotations," Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao said of the Villanova spurt.

Leitao said the Wildcats have so many offensive options, and adding Booth makes it even harder to defend them.

"They are back to being whole," he said.

The game was tied at 16 after a Strus 3-pointer with 11:09 left in the half, but the Wildcats slowly and methodically pulled away.

Bridges had 15 points and Paschall added nine in the opening 20 minutes. Villanova was 10 for 14 from the free-throw line while the Blue Demons didn't attempt a foul shot. For the game, the Wildcats finished 15 for 21 from the line while DePaul was 0 for 1.

Big picture
DePaul: The Blue Demons need a victory in one of their three remaining games to reach four conference wins, which would be their most since joining the Big East.

Villanova: The four-time defending Big East champion Wildcats also have three regular-season games remaining. They are tied for first place with Xavier but own the tiebreaker with the Musketeers after beating them twice, including Saturday's 95-79 win at No. 4 Xavier.

Wright stuff
Wright recorded his 411th win at Villanova to close within two victories of tying Alexander Severance for first place in all-time coaching victories. In his 17th season at Villanova, Wright improved to 17-2 against DePaul.

Series dominance
The Wildcats have won 26 of the 34 matchups, with DePaul's last win coming Jan. 3, 2008. Villanova won at DePaul 103-85 on Dec. 27 in the other contest of this season's two-game series.

Strus for 3
Strus made three 3-pointers, finishing 3 for 9, to up his single-season total to 74 and pass Quentin Richardson for second-most in a season. Drake Diener, with 85 in the 2004-05 season, tops the list.

Up next
DePaul: Host Marquette on Saturday.

Villanova: At Creighton on Saturday.

Up-and-down week has Villanova steady in AP poll

usa-jay-wright-villanova-xavier.jpg
USA Today Images

Up-and-down week has Villanova steady in AP poll

For the second week in a row, Jay Wright's Villanova squad endured a stunning upset and then followed it up with a statement victory.

And for the second week in a row, the Wildcats held steady in the AP Poll.

After falling 76-71 at Providence on Valentine's Day and then forcefully handling No. 4 Xavier 95-79 in enemy territory on Saturday, Villanova checks in at No. 3 in the AP Poll for the second straight week. This after the 'Cats spent the five weeks prior sitting pretty as the No. 1 team in the land.

The commanding victory at Xavier wasn't enough to propel Villanova ahead of No. 1 Virginia and No. 2 Michigan State. The Cavaliers received 42 first-place votes and the Spartans received 19 first-place votes. The Wildcats garnered four first-place votes for themselves.

Xavier held firm at No. 4 and Duke checked in at No. 5 to round out this week's top five.

March is looming and that means the Big East grind is winding down. The Wildcats, 11-3 in conference play and sitting in second place in the Big East behind 12-3 Xavier, own the tiebreaker over the Musketeers after Saturday's win. They have four regular-season contests left, starting with a home date vs. DePaul on Wednesday night. This week ends with a trip to Creighton on Saturday afternoon.

Take care of business and once again it looks like the Big East goes through Villanova, which has won the last four Big East regular-season titles.