Villanova Wildcats

No. 5 Villanova wins Battle 4 Atlantis title over Northern Illinois

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No. 5 Villanova wins Battle 4 Atlantis title over Northern Illinois


PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Villanova coach Jay Wright loves playing in November tournaments, from the chance to learn how his team responds to early challenges and experiment with which lineups work best.

Of course, it helps that the fifth-ranked Wildcats keep winning trophies, too.

Mikal Bridges scored 18 points and Villanova pulled away down the stretch to beat Northern Iowa 64-50 in Friday's Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, marking the fifth straight season the Wildcats have won a November tournament.

Jalen Brunson added 16 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player for Villanova (6-0), which has 17 straight wins in these early season tournaments -- including a run to the 2013 Atlantis championship here in the Bahamas. They've won the 2014 Legends Classic, the 2015 NIT Season Tip-Off and the 2016 Charleston Classic since.

"There's a challenge coming here," Wright said. "Everything's taken care of for you here. You're treated like a king. But this is paradise. There's a lot of temptations here. And if you get caught up in that and that's more important to you than being a good basketball and a good teammate, that can affect you.

"These guys and the guys we've had over the years, they're really good basketball players. They're intelligent and they know this is an opportunity to play great competition -- and they take it very seriously."

The Wildcats led most of the way then used an 8-0 run in the final 4 minutes to turn away the Panthers (5-2) for their third win in as many days.

"It gives us great confidence right now, knowing that we've played pretty well as a team," Bridges said. "But it can also hurt if you get too satisfied with this and get complacent."

Juwan McCloud scored 13 points to lead the Panthers, who shot 42 percent and controlled the boards. But Northern Iowa made just 6 of 23 3-pointers and failed to get to the free-throw line in a game that had just 20 total fouls.

"We just didn't have quite enough offense today," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "I love this team. And we're going to get better. And we're going to be right there when it matters."

Big picture
Northern Iowa: The Panthers finished with two wins in three games in the Bahamas, starting with a 61-58 win against SMU then getting a couple of late baskets to beat North Carolina State 64-60 on Thanksgiving day. They just couldn't complete the three-day run.

"The thing I liked the most was the toughness part of it," Jacobson said. "We came down here and we were tough."

Villanova: The Wildcats managed to avoid the trouble that befell fellow ranked teams No. 2 Arizona and No. 18 Purdue in Atlantis. They used a second-half spurt to pull away from Western Kentucky 66-58 in Round 1, then ran off a bigger one -- 23-2 -- to erase a double-digit deficit and beat Tennessee 85-76 in the semifinals. And Bridges' leap from last year has built a scary 1-2 punch with Brunson, a preseason Associated Press all-American.

"The thing I learned is we don't quit," Brunson said, adding: "I think we really got tested in this tournament."

The key sequence
The Panthers got within 51-45 on Spencer Haldeman's 3 with 5:33 left after trailing by double figures midway through the second half, but Klint Carlson missed a 3-pointer and a jumper with a chance to bring them even closer.

Phil Booth soon answered with a 3. Then, after Eric Paschall's score inside, Bridges hit a 3 off a crosscourt feed from Brunson to push the lead to 14 with 2:03 left.

Championship tests
Northern Iowa has already played the past two national champions, though this one went much better than the first meeting. The Panthers trailed by 31 points in a season-opening 86-69 loss at 2017 champion North Carolina despite the fact the Tar Heels were down two starters -- including Final Four most outstanding player Joel Berry II.

"I would say that this shows we can play with anybody in the nation," McCloud said.

Extra inspiration
Villanova's bench was a little deeper than usual.

Ten-year-old Asher Davies, from Canby, Oregon, met Wright before the game and sat at the end of the bench during the game as part of the Make-A-Wish program. Davies was also recognized during a first-half timeout.

"I know he's been struggling with an illness," Wright said. "And then we're getting ready for the game, we think it's all about us, it put us in a really good perspective before the game."

Up next
Northern Iowa: The Panthers host UNLV on Wednesday.

Villanova: The Wildcats host Penn on Wednesday.

Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

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Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

VILLANOVA, Pa. — There were many reasons why Villanova was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And many more for why it's one of just two top seeds still standing.

The Wildcats do a lot of things well. They have depth, they can shoot from three, they defend, they are well-coached and they play hard. But perhaps their greatest attribute isn’t physical or psychological.

It’s experience. 

Of 'Nova’s core six, five were on the national championship team two seasons ago. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth played key roles on that squad. Donte DiVincenzo (injured) and Eric Paschall (transfer) were on the team but did not play. Having players that talented and that seasoned can’t be quantified. Not to mention a coaching staff still in tact from that title team. 

Between that run in 2015-16 and playing one of the toughest schedules in the country in a battle-tested Big East conference, there is nothing this group has not seen.

“Obviously the playing experience is most important but having coaches who have been in it," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said Monday. "Having guys like Donte, Eric, who were sitting out, be a part of that '16 run — that’s important, too. They learned a lot, they picked up a lot. To be able to share that experience with the young guys, I think that helps this team a lot.”

DiVincenzo agreed with his coach's sentiment.

“We’ve seen the biggest stage," the redshirt sophomore guard said. "Although myself and Eric were not playing, we were there and witnessed it and we know what it takes not only to win it but to get there.”

Next up for Villanova is the Sweet 16 and fifth-seeded West Virginia on Friday night in Boston. The Mountaineers begin guarding you in the parking lot. It is a 90-foot torture test of relentless pressure, end to end. A brutal matchup for any team.

But rest assured, Villanova will be prepared and won’t be overwhelmed. 

“No matter what the stage is, we don’t care," Bridges said. "You can put us anywhere, we’re going to play the same game. We tell the young guys, 'Don’t think of it as the Sweet 16, think of it as the next game.'"

It may be more than just the next game.

But the moment won’t be too big for this bunch that’s seen it all.

How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

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How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama


PITTSBURGH — Mikal Bridges hit five 3s, scored 23 points and helped No. 1 seed Villanova put the field on notice that it's the team to beat with an 81-58 win over ninth-seeded Alabama on Saturday.

The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth -- and yes, The Big Ragu -- look every bit the favorite to make it two in three years.

Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.

The sport is still buzzing from top-seeded Virginia's 20-point loss to 16th-seeded UMBC on Friday night.

Alabama (20-16) failed to make it two No. 1s KO'd in less than 24 hours.

After a tense first half in a round that has given the program fits, the Wildcats hit their first six 3s in the second and put on a thrashing up there among the most dominant under coach Jay Wright.

Bridges, who averaged 17.9 points and played his way into a likely NBA draft lottery pick, scored 1 point and missed all five shots in the first half. He found his groove once the second half tipped. Bridges scored the first 5 points of the half and then finished a thunderous alley-oop on a pass from Booth that made it 41-27 and sent the Wildcats wildly waving their arms in celebration headed into a timeout.

Bridges hit his first three 3s in succession to cap an 18-1 run and a Sweet 16 berth was in sight.

Brunson added a 3 to make it 56-31 and the rest of the half was simply a countdown to Boston. Villanova made 17 of 41 3s.

The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 seed in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Villanova got a brief scare that it might add `18 to the list against Alabama.

The Wildcats live-and-die by the 3-pointer -- they say, "shoot em' up and sleep in the streets" -- and when it's on, look out. The Wildcats are as dangerous as any team in the nation.

When it's off, well, that's how they're so upset-prone in March. They missed eight of their first 11 3s in the first half and Alabama briefly grabbed the lead.

Donte DiVincenzo steadied Villanova with three straight 3s that brought a gasp from the crowd and gave the Wildcats a 22-15 lead. He threw in a fastbreak layup off his own steal and hit his fifth 3 of the half to make it 32-27.

DiVincenzo -- the redheaded guard nicknamed "The Big Ragu" -- scored all 18 of his points in the half. Villanova attempted 20 3s (made seven) out of 27 shots.