Villanova Wildcats

No. 4 Villanova-St. Joe's observations: Wildcats cruise to 20th straight Big 5 win

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No. 4 Villanova-St. Joe's observations: Wildcats cruise to 20th straight Big 5 win

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Make it 20.

On Saturday evening at Hagan Arena, No. 4 Villanova rolled to its 20th consecutive Big 5 victory in a style with a 94-53 rout of archrival St. Joe’s.

The Wildcats set a program record with 19 three-pointers in the win, breaking the previous mark of 17 — set vs. Lehigh in 2005 — on an Omari Spellman trey with 3:05 remaining.

Villanova shot a whopping 19 for 35 from three-point range to improve to 8-0 on the season and 2-0 in the Big 5.

St. Joe’s dropped to 4-4 and 0-1 in the Big 5 despite 14 points from senior James Demery.

• The game was decided late in the first half when Villanova drilled five straight three-pointers — two from Phil Booth, two from Spellman and one from Mikal Bridges — to take a 41-27 halftime lead into halftime.

• The Wildcats continued to build their lead in the second half, using a ridiculous 26-2 run to put the game away.

• How do you guard the “Killer B’s” for Villanova? Jalen Brunson (14 points), Booth (17 points) and Bridges (18 points) took turns making huge shots and are rounding into a nucleus that can rival any team in the nation.

• Yes, Villanova only led 29-27 at one point in this game. But just like the Wildcats did three days earlier in another Big 5 win (over Penn), they dialed up the defensive intensity, got really hot from the field and turned the game into a laugher. It’s remarkable, at times, to see how well Villanova mixes discipline with talent to throw off other teams.

• Spellman didn’t start because he was 1.2 pounds over his target weight. But he checked in just a few minutes into the game and made his presence felt with a huge block off the backboard early in the first half. He finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds — even with all that extra weight.

• After hitting the record-breaking three, Spellman then hit another one with a minute to go that bounced on the rim about five times. Yes, it was that kind of night for Villanova.

• Donte DiVincenzo (eight points) also got a nice shooter’s roll on one of his threes that bounced off the front rim and in. He also found Bridges for a pretty alley-oop in the first half.

• Taylor Funk (13 points) showed why he’s one of the most exciting freshmen in the city with a long three-pointer, a drive and dunk, and dive to save the ball in the first half. It’s clear he’s already becoming a fan favorite at St. Joe’s.

• The Brunson vs. Shavar Newkirk point guard battle should have been worth the price of admission alone. But Newkirk, who scored 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting, still doesn’t look completely look like the player that averaged over 20 points per game after tearing his ACL. Brunson, meanwhile, looks like one of the most complete guards in the nation.

• The Hawks were missing two of their best players in Lamarr Kimble (left foot) and Charlie Brown (left wrist). But both were still into the “Holy War” with Kimble, out for the season, waving his arms in unison with the Hawk mascot before the game and Brown hitting a ridiculous one-handed backwards halfcourt shot to the delight of the fans. It’s hard to say the Hawks could have won the game with those two available but they certainly would have made it far more competitive.

• The St. Joe’s student section was unbelievably loud and packed to the rafters, as it always is for big games. But they might want to rethink that “Overrated” chant directed at ’Nova, especially before the game even begins. Not sure about that “Jay Wright Sits to Pee” rollout either.

• Villanova is halfway to its fifth straight perfect Big 5 season and we’ll find out soon if the Wildcats can pull it off. They host La Salle at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 10 and visit Temple on Dec. 13.

• St. Joe’s has its next Big 5 matchup a week from now at Temple.

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

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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.