Villanova Wildcats

No big threat for 'Nova in Big East opener

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No big threat for 'Nova in Big East opener

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- In his 17 seasons at Villanova, Jay Wright can't recall coaching a more efficient offense. The way the Wildcats are clicking, it's not hard to see why he feels that way.

Mikal Bridges scored 20 points, Phil Booth added 17 points and six assists, and No. 1 Villanova made it look easy, beating DePaul 103-85 on Wednesday night in the Big East opener for both teams.

The Wildcats (13-0, 1-0) closed in on last year's program-record 14-0 start and gave Wright his 399th victory since becoming Villanova's coach in 2001.

Bridges and Booth each made four 3-pointers, and the Wildcats nailed 15 of 31 from long range.

Chicago-area product Jalen Brunson had 16 points and five assists. Eric Paschall scored 16, and Villanova hit the 100-point mark for the third time this season.

"I think it's really high basketball talent," Wright said. "We've got some really talented guys but they have really high basketball IQ. You might have three guys that talented but only one has basketball IQ. These (players) are all talented and a high basketball IQ. Always look to make the right play, not just scoring points."

He said past teams had more depth and were stingier on defense, something he would like to improve.

"We still have a journey," Wright said.

But these Wildcats also have something else going for them. They're comfortable at the top.

"I remember the first time we were the No. 1 team in the country and it was just a different feeling for the school, for the community," Booth said. "It was something we never really experienced before. Now we kind of focus on ourselves now. It's about us trying to get better and stay locked in."

Max Strus had 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists for DePaul (7-6, 0-1). Marin Maric added 17 points and 10 rebounds, but the Blue Demons dropped their 13th straight against ranked opponents. They fell to 3-21 against No. 1 teams.

"It's phenomenal the way they make shots and a lot of it is they move the ball so well, and all five guys -- they don't have a guy that you don't have to guard at the 3-point line," coach Dave Leitao said. "And when you have that and fill a space and you play unselfishly, you're going to get open shots. They do it to a high level and as a result they make a lot of shots."

Pulling away
The Wildcats beat DePaul for the 15th straight time and improved to 25-8 in the all-time series. They shot 18 of 34 and nailed 8 of 18 3-point attempts on the way to a 48-33 halftime lead.

Any remaining suspense got wiped out by an 11-0 run early in the second half that made it 61-36. Booth hit a 3 and a layup during that spurt, and Jermaine Samuels finished it with two free throws. Bridges' 3 with just over 15 minutes left made it 69-39.

About the only thing Blue Demons fans had to cheer was when Bears great Otis Wilson was introduced in the closing minutes.

Painful moment
There was a scary moment late in the first half when DePaul's Peter Ryckbosch collided with Booth going for a defensive rebound and banged his head on the court. He stayed down for a couple minutes before walking to the locker room.

Big picture
Villanova: Though they got outrebounded 50-32, it's not hard to see why the Wildcats are No. 1 for the third week in a row.

DePaul: The Blue Demons couldn't get their shots to fall and had trouble hanging onto the ball. They were 29 of 71 overall -- 6 of 23 on 3's -- and tied a season high with 17 turnovers.

Quotable
"Deep down it means a lot to come back here. ... I enjoy being back here. I love to be here. A lot of great memories. It feels good to come home." -- Brunson on playing in Chicago.

Up next
Villanova: The Wildcats visit Butler on Saturday. The Bulldogs swept both games last season and handed Villanova its first loss after a 14-0 start.

DePaul: The schedule doesn't get easier, with the Blue Demons visiting No. 6 Xavier on Saturday.

Villanova still sitting pretty in the AP poll

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USA Today Images

Villanova still sitting pretty in the AP poll

Villanova is getting pretty accustomed to this whole No. 1 thing.

For the fifth time in the last six weeks, head coach Jay Wright's Wildcats are No. 1 in the AP poll, receiving 63 of 65 first-place votes this time around. This week's spot on college basketball's top perch came after a successful week that saw the 'Cats smother then-No.10 Xavier, 89-65, on Wednesday evening at the Wells Fargo Center. The Musketeers fell to No. 11 after the defeat. Villanova followed that up by holding off a feisty St. John's squad, 78-71, at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The Wildcats sport this No. 1 ranking heading into their own rivalry week this week. They head to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to battle historic Big East rival Georgetown, led by first-year head coach and Hoya great Patrick Ewing. The Hoyas are 12-5 on the season, but just 2-4 in conference play. They most recently fell to No. 19 Seton Hall this past Saturday. After that, it's on to Connecticut for an old-school Big East matchup with the Huskies. The teams last met in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, a game UConn won on its way to the national championship. Villanova, though, holds a 33-31 all-time advantage.

As for the rest of this week's top five, Virginia moved up a spot to No. 2, Purdue jumped up to No. 3, Oklahoma shot up five spots to No. 4. and Duke crept up to No. 5.

Click here to view this week's top 25 poll in its entirety.

No. 1 Villanova holds off St. John's

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AP Images

No. 1 Villanova holds off St. John's

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Donte DiVincenzo hit six 3-pointers and scored 25 points to help No. 1 Villanova silence a rowdy New York crowd and hold off upset-minded St. John's 78-71 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Shammorie Ponds came close to leading the Red Storm (10-8, 0-6 Big East) to their first win over a No. 1 team in 33 years. Ponds scored a career-high 37 points in front of 17,123 fans at the Garden.

Ponds punished his body as he crashed the lane for tough buckets -- going up-and-under and seemingly straight through defenders -- over the final 10 minutes that cut it to 69-65 with 1:18 left. He sank a rare jumper (all his field goals were 2-pointers) that pulled St. John's within 71-67, and suddenly the chants of "Let's Go Nova!" were drowned out by cheers for the Red Storm.

The Wildcats (16-1, 4-1) were flawless from the free-throw line over the final minute to avoid the startling upset.

Ponds, a 6-foot-1 guard who scored 31 points against Missouri in November, took just about every shot for the Red Storm down the stretch.

Once called the Michael Jordan of Delaware by coach Jay Wright, DiVincenzo simply wouldn't let the Red Storm get too close. Each time St. John's seemed set to start a game-changing run over the final 7 minutes, DiVincenzo buried 3s, hitting three that gave the Wildcats leads of nine, 10 and 11.

Mikal Bridges had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Villanova. The Wildcats went 13-for-30 on 3-point range.

Ponds was a one-man band for St. John's. No other player scored in double figures and his 15 baskets were two more than the rest of the team.

Jalen Brunson and Bridges hit 3s early in the second half to start to build a cushion and DiVincenzo added another 3 for a 10-point lead. That completed a torrid stretch of eight 3s on Villanova's last eight attempts.

St. John's hit one 3 the entire game -- one! -- and that snuffed any chance at a win. St. John's hung around for most of the first half and put checks in the boxes of things needed to do to beat Villanova.

Tariq Owens had a big block on Bridges under the basket that brought a packed MSG crowd to its feet. Bryan Trimble Jr. buried a 3 for a 20-17 lead and Brunson, one of the top players in the nation, fumbled the ball on the next possession. The Wildcats, who have seemingly fixed the defensive troubles that plagued them the last month, lost their 3-point stroke, missing 8 of their first 10 attempts.

The Wildcats pulled themselves together and showed why they're again the elite team in the Big East. DiVincenzo hit two 3s and scored eight straight points to give them the lead for good and Omari Spellman hit a 3 to send Villanova into halftime with a 34-27 lead.

BIG PICTURE
St. John's: Yes, the Red Storm were actually 10-2 on Dec. 20 and off to one of their best starts in two decades before this tailspin started. The Red Storm lost all three games on this homestand and there's little sign there will be an immediate turnaround. St. John's hasn't defeated a No. 1 team since Chris Mullin was in uniform, not the coach. St. John's beat No. 1 Georgetown 66-65 on Jan. 26, 1985.

Villanova: The Wildcats won their 13th straight game in the series. Villanova, the 2016 national champions, is rolling toward its fifth straight Big East regular season championship.

UP NEXT
Villanova puts its No. 1 ranking on the line Wednesday at Georgetown.

The Red Storm play another Top 25 team when they visit No. 10 Xavier on Wednesday.