Villanova Wildcats

No. 4 Villanova 'psyched' for first-ever game vs. No. 12 Gonzaga

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No. 4 Villanova 'psyched' for first-ever game vs. No. 12 Gonzaga

Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Gonzaga (161 wins) and Villanova (151) are the first- and third-winningest teams in Division I basketball.

On Tuesday, they will meet for the first time.

The No. 4 Wildcats and No. 12 Bulldogs face each other in the first game — Syracuse-Connecticut is the other — of the annual Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The Zags (7-1) boast wins over Ohio State, Texas and then-No. 25 Creighton. Their only loss was to Florida, now ranked fifth, in a 111-105 double-overtime thriller.

This is the first real test for the Wildcats (8-0) — and it's the biggest one on Gonzaga's remaining schedule.

Potential Wildcats matchups with Arizona and Purdue never materialized in the Bahamas. Instead, when the Battle 4 Atlantis bracket was busted, Villanova beat Northern Iowa for the title.

The Wildcats' next toughest non-conference opponent is Temple next week.

This Gonzaga team hasn't had quite the expected drop-off from last year's team that lost to North Carolina in the national title game.

"I walk out of here knowing we can compete against anybody in the country now and we did not know that coming in," Few told The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review after his team beat Texas to claim third place in the PK80 tournament. "We hadn't really played anybody coming in.

"There were some question marks but if you go back to our scrimmage (vs. current No. 7 Texas A&M) and now this (tourney), I think we've proven we can definitely play with anybody in the country."

That theory will be tested on Thursday.

Villanova is coming off a 94-53 thrashing of Saint Joseph's.

Slowing the Wildcats shooters will be a challenge for the Bulldogs.

"They have a way of trying to win every possession," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said, according to Phillynews.com. "If our kids want to know what the top looks like, that's it.

"There's nothing they miss."

The Wildcats didn't miss a lot on Saturday, pouring in a school-record 19 3-pointers while outscoring the Hawks 57-16 from long range.

In its 91-74 win over Creighton on Friday, Gonzaga gave up 12 3-pointers.

"We knew they were a really good transition team," Zags forward Killian Tillie said after scoring 22 points in the win. "It's a different way of playing. We had to get back on defense really quickly. We had to adapt to them."

The Zags and Wildcats are both ranked in the top 26 in the nation in field goal percentage.

"I think it's going to be a great game," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said, according to the school's website. "At every position, they are operating at a high level. They have depth and are probably as efficient an offensive team as we have played. It's definitely going to be the best team we have played this year.

"It will be a great challenge for us. We're psyched."

The two coaches are close, and Few credits Wright with helping him navigate last year's Final Four.

"I spoke to Jay before we went to the Final Four," Few said Monday on the College Hoops Today Podcast. "I spoke to him and he told me what to expect and what the experience was going to be like. He was great. We had an unbelievable experience with the way we handled that weekend. I wouldn't do anything differently if we're fortunate enough to ever go back."

Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert is uncertain to be on the court Tuesday.

Kispert, a freshman who started the Zags' first seven games, missed the win over Creighton with an ankle injury.

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.