Villanova Wildcats

No. 6 Villanova-Columbia observations: Tons of balance in season-opening win

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No. 6 Villanova-Columbia observations: Tons of balance in season-opening win

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Although it's ranked No. 6 in the nation, Villanova had a lot of question marks heading into the 2017-18 season.

The Wildcats answered some of them in a 75-60 season-opening defeat of Columbia on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center, but still have plenty of things to figure out.

• Not surprisingly, it was first-team preseason All-American Jalen Brunson who set the tone for the ’Cats. The junior point guard opened the game with a three and closed the first half with a sweet midrange jumper to give Villanova a 32-23 halftime lead. He finished with 14 points in 34 minutes.

• Eric Paschall, a somewhat surprise addition to the starting lineup, had a couple of dunks and a big block to end the first half, and showed great hustle throughout the game. The Fordham transfer led Villanova with 15 points and could be primed for a big year after being more of a role player last season.

• Phil Booth, back after a season lost to injury, showed a little bit of rust with eight points on 3 of 9 shooting.

• Mikal Bridges had the play of the game midway through the second half, showing off long, gangly arms and athletic ability with an incredible baseline dunk.

• The Wildcats took a lot of threes, as they’re prone to do, but only connected on seven of their 32 attempts.

• Donte DiVincenzo, who didn’t start, was held scoreless in the first half, but helped the Wildcats run away with the game after the break with 13 points.

• Freshman Collin Gillespie, a prized prospect out of the Philadelphia Catholic League, showed off his sweet stroke right away, hitting a couple of three-pointers in the first half to help stave off a pesky Lions squad, including one that broke a 9-9 tie.

• The Wildcats’ other top newcomer, redshirt freshman Omari Spellman, had a tougher start, missing an early gimme and making a lazy pass that led to a turnover and transition Columbia bucket. But the big man, whose first collegiate basket came on a put-back with 5:40 left in the first half, looked far more assertive after the break, with Brunson getting in his ear to offer tips. He ended up with a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

• Columbia kept it interesting early with top guard Mike Smith helping the Lions tie the game at 9-9 with under 14 minutes left in the first half as ’Nova struggled shooting the basketball. The Lions, who may end up competing with Penn for a berth in the Ivy League Tournament, certainly look like they could be a formidable team in the Ivy League.

• Friday’s game marked the first time in program history that Villanova opened a season at the Wells Fargo Center, because of renovations on its on-campus Pavilion home. There was a bit of a different vibe than the February games the Wildcats usually play here vs. Big East rivals, but the crowd was quite large for a non-conference game and enjoyed singing along with the Villanova band.

• The Wildcats are now 44-32 all-time at the Wells Fargo Center. They have 11 more regular-season contests in the building, including all nine of its Big East home games.

• Columbia shocked Villanova the last time the two teams meet, upsetting it, 75-57, at the Pavilion in 2012.

• Villanova returns to action Tuesday against Nicholls State — a team 323 spots below it in the Pomeroy rankings.

• The Sixers may be out on the West Coast but that didn’t stop a “Trust the Process” chant from breaking out in the final minutes.

No. 5 Villanova sets school record for blocks in rout of Nicholls

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No. 5 Villanova sets school record for blocks in rout of Nicholls

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Mikal Bridges rejected consecutive shots by Roddy Peters in the lane, producing "oohs" from the crowd.

And No. 5 Villanova wasn't done, not even on this possession.

Omari Spellman brought the fans and bench players to their feet by swatting Tevon Saddler's follow attempt from behind, giving the Wildcats three blocks in 8 seconds and setting the tone in a record-setting 113-77 rout of Nicholls on Tuesday night.

"That's what we should be fired up about," Bridges said. "defensive things, not offensive."

Bridges set career highs with 23 points, four blocks and five steals, and Villanova (2-0) set a school record by blocking 13 shots. Spellman also had four rejections.

"We have the potential to be a very good defensive team," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "I think you saw some of that tonight. It was more athleticism tonight than defensive technique."

Donte DiVincenzo added 20 points, Jalen Brunson had 17 and the Wildcats had six players in double figures while shooting 58 percent from the field in their second straight blowout of an inferior opponent.

"I can't imagine many teams in the country being better than them," Nicholls coach Richie Riley said. "I think they have a chance to hang another banner. I think they're that good."

Zaquavian Smith scored 25 points and Peters had 17 for the Colonels (1-1), who trailed by as many as 38 points.

Villanova, which cruised past Columbia 75-60 on Friday, raced to a 22-9 lead and was never threatened. Bridges shot 4 of 7 from 3-point range and the Wildcats were 13 of 30 from behind the arc.

That's an improvement from the 7-of-32 long-distance shooting in the opener.

"A lot of extra passes," Wright said.

The Colonels, picked to finish 10th out of 13 teams in the Southland Conference, entered as a 32-point underdog and were quickly overwhelmed in the schools' first meeting.

With just over 8 minutes remaining in the first half, Nicholls had more turnovers (7) than field goals (5).

Shortly after the three quick blocks, Villanova led 35-11.

"When you play in games like this and you're a school like us, sometimes you get out there and you really want to do well so bad that you put yourself in a tough (situation)," Riley said. "Our guys over-penetrated and over-drove the ball and they made plays at the rim."

Big picture
Nicholls: Hours after Jay Clune was appointed Nicholls' new president, the basketball team collected a check to bring back to Thibodaux, Louisiana. But Riley's transfer-dominated team needs work to end a 19-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Villanova: Plenty of highlight dunks and impressive blocks in two easy wins to start the season. The Wildcats have a lot of weapons, but have yet to be tested.

Rejected
The Wildcats' previous team record was 12 blocks, done four times and most recently against Delaware in the 2000 NIT. The individual mark is 10 blocks by Harold Pressley against Providence on Jan. 11, 1986.

Defense MIA
Nicholls ranked 335th out of 351 teams last season by allowing 82.1 points a game. And while they won their opener 111-106 over Texas-Rio Grande Valley, they couldn't outshoot Villanova.

The Wildcats scored at will for much of the night, getting good looks inside and open 3s from the perimeter. The Colonels tried to push the pace, but they finished with 17 turnovers and drives to the rim often ended with a blocked shot.

Up next
Nicholls has its home opener Friday against Division II Spring Hill (Ala.).

Villanova faces Lafayette in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Friday before traveling to the Bahamas for three games in the Battle for Atlantis next week. The Wildcats could play No. 19 Purdue and No. 3 Arizona in the last two rounds.

Villanova moves up to No. 5 in AP poll

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Villanova moves up to No. 5 in AP poll

The new season is only one game old for Villanova, but Jay Wright and his Wildcats are already moving up the AP poll.

In the newest poll released Monday, the 'Cats moved up a slot to No. 5 following a 75-60 win over Columbia last Friday in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center.

Kentucky, which was No. 5 last week, slid down two spots after slogging through closer-than-anticipated wins against Utah Valley and Vermont.

The top four remained unchanged this week as Duke stayed at No. 1, Michigan State held firm at No. 2, Arizona parked at No. 3 and Kansas stayed rooted at No. 4.

Villanova hits the court twice this coming week — Tuesday vs. Nichols State at the Wells Fargo Center and Friday vs. Lafayette at PPL Center in Allentown.