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.

Villanova moves up to No. 1 in the nation

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Villanova moves up to No. 1 in the nation

If you're looking for a sliver of good news on a depressing day in Philly sports, Villanova is now the No. 1 team in the nation.

The 10-0 Wildcats moved up to the top spot in Monday's AP poll, receiving 41 of 65 first-place votes.

Michigan State, Wichita State, Duke and Arizona State round out the top five, in that order (see Top 25).

Duke, the unanimous No. 1 team the last two Mondays, lost 89-84 on Saturday at Boston College.

Last week's No. 2 team, Kansas, moved down to No. 13 after losing twice last week to Washington and Arizona State.

Villanova plays twice this week — at Temple on Wednesday for a Big 5 showdown, then vs. Hofstra on Friday night. Those are the Wildcats' last two non-conference games before they begin Big East play on Dec. 27 at DePaul.

Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth help No. 4 Villanova survive La Salle scare

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Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth help No. 4 Villanova survive La Salle scare

BOX SCORE

Duke's run at No. 1 ended with a court-storming loss at Boston College and No. 2 Kansas wilted in a rare home loss.

Undaunted and undefeated, Villanova is charging toward the top spot.

"We played the next No. 1 team in the country," La Salle coach John Giannini said Sunday.

The Explorers got a taste of how tough it can be to knock off the Wildcats. La Salle scored more baskets, sank more 3-pointers, had more steals and still was just another victim in Villanova's unbeaten season.

Phil Booth scored 18 points and Donte DiVincenzo had 18 points and 10 rebounds to help the fourth-ranked Wildcats avoid an upset in a 77-68 win over La Salle.

"They don't have bad games," Giannini said.

This was as close as one gets for the Wildcats (10-0). They were sloppy -- throwing the ball away several times on outlet passes -- slumped from the 3-point line and could not shake the pesky Explorers until the final minutes of the game to win their 21st straight Big 5 game.

The Wildcats had depth and a massive edge from the free-throw line to sink the Explorers. La Salle (5-6) was a two-man show in B.J Johnson and Amar Stukes, and that was enough to give them a 62-61 lead with 4:47 left.

But the Wildcats had Booth and DiVincenzo, and Jalen Brunson scored 17 and Mikal Bridges, quiet all game, came to life for crucial baskets late to seal the win. Throw in the whopping disparity from the line -- Villanova made 27 of 35, La Salle was 4 of 5 -- and the Wildcats made their case for why they should fight it out with No 3. Michigan State (9-1) to become the new No. 1 team in the AP Top 25.

"It's a great lesson for our guys. The score isn't always what the game is really about," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Booth put the Wildcats ahead with three free throws and followed with an assist on DiVincenzo's 3-pointer that made it 67-62 and finally gave them a bit of breathing room. Bridges, coming off a career-high 28 points against Gonzaga, went inside for a pair of tough buckets and a 71-64 lead that brought the Villanova fans to their feet.

"These guys have played in these games. They're not surprised," Wright said.

Johnson led the Explorers with 21 points and Stukes had 16 to help keep slim hopes alive of pulling off a stunner. The duo combined to hit seven 3-pointers and carried La Salle to the brink of victory.

"When we're out there and we started making plays, we felt like we could do that against anybody," Stukes said. "The shots started falling. We just had to play defense."

The Wildcats beat No. 12 Gonzaga by 16 points this week at Madison Square Garden and were expected to roll against the Explorers at the Wells Fargo Center. The foundation for their perfect record had come from the 3-point line; the Wildcats hit a school-record 19 against Saint Joseph's and buried 10 against the Zags. Against the Explorers, the 3s dried up in the first half. Villanova missed its first six attempts and missed eight of 10 overall in the half.

La Salle went the opposite direction in the first half. Shooting a miserable 29 percent from 3-point range this season, the Explorers went 6 of 12 to take a 38-37 lead. Stukes hit two straight 3s and his bucket a tick before the horn gave La Salle the lead at the break.

Villanova, La Salle, Saint Joseph's, Temple and Penn make up the city series field. The Wildcats have emerged as the class of the city and haven't been defeated by a Philadelphia-area team since Temple won on Dec. 5, 2012.

Big picture
La Salle: The Explorers lost for the 15th time in the last 16 games against Villanova. But a lot of teams lose all the time to `Nova. It's what the Explorers do from here that will define their season. They have two more nonconference games to shape up before they open the Atlantic 10 season Dec. 30 against St. Louis. The Explorers haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and will need more consistent performances like they had in the first half to get there again this season.

Villanova: The Wildcats win again. Even when the score is close, the outcome never seems in doubt against a city school. Los Angeles Lakers rookie Josh Hart, one of the stars of the 2016 national championship team, sat courtside and earned a standing ovation as the alum of the game. He trash-talked Johnson in the second half and laughed when the La Salle forward buried a bucket after their exchange.

Ouch
Villanova played without G Collin Gillespie because of a left wrist injury suffered in practice.

Up next
La Salle: Hosts Mercer on Sunday.

Villanova: The Wildcats finish the Big 5 season Wednesday at Temple.