Villanova Wildcats

No. 7 Villanova at Albany: Taking on strong defense in conference opener

villanova-albany-preview-slide.jpg
CSN

No. 7 Villanova at Albany: Taking on strong defense in conference opener

No. 7 Villanova (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Albany (2-1, 0-0 CAA)
Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, Albany, New York
Saturday, 7 p.m.

It’s time for conference play as Villanova kicks off its CAA slate this weekend. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
The Wildcats asserted their FCS dominance last week with a 59-0 thrashing of overmatched Lafayette. That came two weeks after a win over another Patriot League team in Lehigh, which preceded an impressive showing in a loss to FBS Temple. All of which is to say that the Wildcats head into conference play as good as advertised as one of the juggernauts in the CAA, led by quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (who completed 13 of 15 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns last week), a balanced rushing attack (also last week: seven different ball carriers combined to run for 262 yards and three TDs), and a defense that slowed down Temple and had two TDs vs. Lafayette (and was among the nation’s best last season).

Scouting Albany
After losing to Old Dominion in their opener, the Great Danes have won two straight, shutting out Morgan State, 26-0, and doubling up Monmouth, 28-14. In last week’s win over Monmouth, redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Brunson threw for one touchdown and ran for another while the Albany defense, led by redshirt senior linebacker Nate Hatalsky (15 tackles), held one of FCS’s top rushing teams to just 63 yards on the ground. Picked to finish sixth in the CAA in the preseason, Albany also features an all-league running back in junior Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who scored a TD in his season debut last week after sitting out the first two games with an injury.

History
Villanova leads the all-time series, 3-0, having defeated the Great Danes in each of the past three seasons.

Storyline to watch
Albany’s defense is off to a solid start, ranking second in the CAA in both total defense and passing defense. Bednarczyk and company had a field day with Lehigh and Lafayette but it will be interesting to see how they manage the game, and balance the run vs. pass, against a more proficient defensive unit.

What’s at stake?
Winning on the road is never easy but if it wants to win the CAA, Villanova is going to have to stay unblemished until facing league powerhouse and defending national champion James Madison in mid-October.

Prediction
The Wildcats will immediately show why they’re one of the CAA’s best teams.

Villanova 28, Albany 17

Villanova moves up to No. 1 in the nation

ap-jalen-brunson-villanova.jpg
AP Images

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

ap-donte-divincenzo-villanova.jpg
AP Images

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.