Villanova Wildcats

No. 4 Villanova-Penn observations: Wildcats put on show at the old 'Cat House'

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No. 4 Villanova-Penn observations: Wildcats put on show at the old 'Cat House'

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — The venue was different but the result the same.

In the first Big 5 game ever played at Jake Nevin Field House, No. 4 Villanova cruised to a 90-62 victory over visiting Penn (5-4) on Wednesday. 

With the win, the Wildcats (7-0) upped their record Big 5 winning streak to 19 games heading into another city matchup at Saint Joseph’s on Saturday. 

• It was a unique atmosphere at Jake Nevin Field House, which hadn’t hosted a Villanova men’s game since 1986, a month before the Pavilion opened next door. But with the 2,200-seat gym best known as the “Cat House” filled with just about all Villanova students, it got loud. Very loud (see story).

• The biggest cheers in the building, which opened in 1931, came early when Omari Spellman had a steal and coasted in for a thunderous one-handed dunk, moments after burying a three-pointer. The Villanova redshirt freshman was up for the game, scoring 10 points before the first media timeout.

• The rims may not be what they’re used to but the Wildcats could barely miss, shooting 50 percent from three-point range and 56.9 percent from the field. One of those threes came from freshman Jermaine Samuels — just his second of the season.

• ’Nova captain Jalen Brunson took over in the second half, as he’s prone to do. He finished with a game-high 17 points and missed only one shot. And showing his leadership, he charged way off the bench to cheer a teammate drawing a charge in the final two minutes.

• Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Spellman also had big games with all three finishing with 14 points. Donte DiVincenzo joined them in double figures with 12.

• The visiting Quakers actually seemed up for the unique matchup, too, with standout sophomores AJ Brodeur (15 points) and Ryan Betley (11 points) putting Penn up 11-9 early. But it looked like some nerves caught up with them with a couple of players shooting airballs and getting rattled.

• As Brodeur and Betley go, so go the Quakers. Brodeur was productive inside but Betley, a native of nearby Downingtown, had an off night shooting until getting hotter late when the game was already out of reach.

• Eric Paschall also had a huge first-half dunk for Villanova — while getting fouled. And Bridges added a couple of his own in the second half, the second of which gave the Wildcats a commanding 74-47 edge with 8:38 remaining.

• Penn took a lot of threes as it usually does but connected on just one of its 10 first-half attempts. For the game, the Quakers shot 6 for 20 from behind the arc.

• Darnell Foreman scored 13 points for Penn and Jackson Donahue, who’s been in and out of the rotation, had a good night off the bench, hitting a couple of threes in the second half and making a couple of nice passes on backdoor cuts. He also endured some taunts from a few Villanova students who liked to call out “Jackson.”  

• Villanova, which held a comfortable 46-28 halftime lead, has beaten Penn in each of the last 15 seasons.

• Legendary Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, who died in August, was honored at halftime with his retired jersey presented to family. About 40 of his former players were in attendance at the old field house he used to call home. 

• The best spotted T-shirt in the crowd: “All Wright All Wright All Wright.”

• After playing Saint Joseph’s, Villanova meets Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden before closing out its Big 5 slate vs. La Salle on Dec. 10 and Temple on Dec. 13. The Wildcats are aiming for their fifth straight perfect Big 5 record.

• The Quakers, who lost an overtime heartbreaker to La Salle earlier in the season, face Temple and St. Joe’s in consecutive weeks in January.

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

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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.

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

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.