Villanova Wildcats

Omari Spellman, Villanova experiment in exhibition win over Drexel

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Noah Levick/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Omari Spellman, Villanova experiment in exhibition win over Drexel

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Just 30 seconds into Villanova's exhibition contest against Drexel Wednesday night at Jake Nevin Field House, Omari Spellman showed why he’s been touted as the future of the program.

The 6-9, 245-pound redshirt freshman spotted up in the right corner and drilled a beautiful, high-arching three-pointer for the game’s first points. He finished with nine points on 3 of 4 shooting, 12 rebounds (11 in the first half) and three blocks in 20 minutes, as Villanova, ranked No. 6 in the AP preseason poll, won, 87-68.

The game was the second of a men’s/women’s doubleheader organized to raise money for hurricane relief. All proceeds from the event will be donated to Unidos Puerto Rico to help Puerto Rican citizens affected by Hurricance Maria and Hurricane Irma. The Field House appeared nearly sold out, with Villanova fans almost filling the building to its 1,500-seat capacity.

Five Wildcats scored in double figures, with Jalen Brunson, the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, leading the way with 16. After Spellman’s three, Brunson split through the Drexel defense and converted an and-one. With a Spellman put-back, the score was 8-0 before the Dragons could blink.

Villanova freshman guard Collin Gillespie was a surprise inclusion in the starting five. Coach Jay Wright clarified after the game that Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall were unavailable to start because both had to take a test. Wright took advantage of the exhibition to play around with several lineups, including a bigger unit with Spellman, Paschall and Bridges as the forwards. He said he hasn’t decided on a starting five.

“Omari, Mikal and Eric is a good lineup for us against some teams. We can also go small with just Mikal and Eric up front,” Wright said. “We were trying to look at those different lineups tonight.”

One benefit of playing Spellman with Bridges and Paschall was getting to see Spellman defend Drexel’s quick guards on the perimeter. Wright hopes that Spellman can emulate past ‘Nova big men like Daniel Ochefu who could handle opposing guards on the defensive end. He was encouraged by what he saw Wednesday.

“Omari showed some really good progress in that area tonight,” Wright said. “That was probably the best thing that came out of tonight. I thought Omari did a good job guarding some quick guys.”

The quickest Drexel guard was probably 5-9, 150-pound sophomore Kurk Lee. Despite his small stature, Lee had no problem staying in front of the bigger Villanova guards, created space off the dribble and kept his teammates involved. He tallied four assists and no turnovers in 31 minutes. However, Lee had trouble finishing with Spellman and Co. looming around the rim, shooting 4 for 16 on the night.

Though Villanova maintained its early momentum, building a 45-22 halftime lead, Drexel managed to outscore the Wildcats in the second half, 46-42. Villanova was sloppy at times in the second half, as the Wildcats finished with 21 turnovers.

Tadas Kararinas also gave Drexel a needed spark. The 6-10, 210-pound freshman from Lithuania scored 16 points in only 19 minutes, nailing all three of his three-point attempts and netting two jump hooks over Spellman in the post.

“Tadas showed everyone what we’ve seen him do, so that’s less of a secret,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said. “We’re proud of him — I thought we had a lot of young guys who competed well.”

Spiker was without seniors Austin Williams and Miles Overton, both of whom are injured, but he expects the two to be ready for Drexel’s regular-season opener at home on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. against Bowling Green.

Villanova’s opener is also on Nov. 10. The Wildcats host Columbia for an 8:30 p.m. tip at the Wells Fargo Center. Wright feels his team has plenty to improve.

“We have good potential, but we've got a lot of work to do,” Wright said. “Jalen, Phil (Booth) and Mikal are solid. And everybody else around them, we have to continue to get them better. We have to create a chemistry around those three.”

Villanova is a relatively young team, with no seniors who play regularly, and freshmen Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels poised to play significant minutes. Even though he’s just a redshirt freshman, Spellman plays with a maturity and confidence that belie his age. Could he be the key to that chemistry?

“He’s got great passion, great energy and the guys love playing with him,” Wright said. “I think he’s going to be a big part of everything we do.”

Villanova women dominate East Stroudsburg
It turns out that the scoreboard at Jake Nevin Field House doesn’t go up to 100.

This became clear late in the fourth quarter of the Villanova women’s 109-42 win over East Stroudsburg, a Division II opponent, in the first game of the doubleheader.

Leading 28-18 at the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats outscored East Stroudsburg 81-24 during the rest of the game. There were obvious, vast disparities in size and skill.

Adriana Hahn led Villanova with 21 points, and nine players scored eight points or more. The Wildcats were 18 of 35 from three-point range. Villanova out-rebounded East Stroudsburg by a 48-22 margin.

The Villanova women open the season on Nov. 10 at Hartford.

Villanova cruises in Phil Booth's return

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USA Today Images

Villanova cruises in Phil Booth's return

BOX SCORE

Phil Booth returned to Villanova's lineup, and it looked as if he never left.

Booth had 14 points in his comeback from a broken right hand that sidelined him for seven games, and Mikal Bridges scored 27 points to lead No. 3 Villanova to a 93-62 victory over DePaul on Wednesday night.

Eric Paschall had 16 points, and Jalen Brunson added 11 points and seven assists to help the Wildcats (25-3, 12-3 Big East) beat DePaul for the 16th straight time.

Booth played 16 minutes, going 4 for 6 from the field and 2 for 4 from. He was injured Jan. 23 against Providence, had his cast removed Friday and practiced Tuesday.

Wildcats coach Jay Wright was pleasantly surprised at Booth's speedy recovery -- and his play.

"It's great to have him back," Wright said about Booth, who entered averaging 11.6 points. "It's a tribute to him. It looked like he never had anything wrong at practice. He looked good tonight, completely fine. It just amazes me."

Booth entered 2:53 into the contest and made his presence felt, scoring eight points in eight minutes to help the Wildcats to their 16-point halftime lead.

"It felt good to be back out there," Booth said. "A little rust but I wasn't worried about offense. My hand felt great."

Max Strus scored 21 points for the Blue Demons (10-17, 3-12).

The Wildcats had a comfortable 46-30 lead at the break. They surged to a 27-point advantage with 17:47 left in the contest by scoring 13 of the first 15 second-half points over 2:13. Bridges capped the run with a 3-pointer that made it 59-32 and practically erased any chances of a DePaul comeback.

"Our hands were down, we were late to a couple of rotations," Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao said of the Villanova spurt.

Leitao said the Wildcats have so many offensive options, and adding Booth makes it even harder to defend them.

"They are back to being whole," he said.

The game was tied at 16 after a Strus 3-pointer with 11:09 left in the half, but the Wildcats slowly and methodically pulled away.

Bridges had 15 points and Paschall added nine in the opening 20 minutes. Villanova was 10 for 14 from the free-throw line while the Blue Demons didn't attempt a foul shot. For the game, the Wildcats finished 15 for 21 from the line while DePaul was 0 for 1.

Big picture
DePaul: The Blue Demons need a victory in one of their three remaining games to reach four conference wins, which would be their most since joining the Big East.

Villanova: The four-time defending Big East champion Wildcats also have three regular-season games remaining. They are tied for first place with Xavier but own the tiebreaker with the Musketeers after beating them twice, including Saturday's 95-79 win at No. 4 Xavier.

Wright stuff
Wright recorded his 411th win at Villanova to close within two victories of tying Alexander Severance for first place in all-time coaching victories. In his 17th season at Villanova, Wright improved to 17-2 against DePaul.

Series dominance
The Wildcats have won 26 of the 34 matchups, with DePaul's last win coming Jan. 3, 2008. Villanova won at DePaul 103-85 on Dec. 27 in the other contest of this season's two-game series.

Strus for 3
Strus made three 3-pointers, finishing 3 for 9, to up his single-season total to 74 and pass Quentin Richardson for second-most in a season. Drake Diener, with 85 in the 2004-05 season, tops the list.

Up next
DePaul: Host Marquette on Saturday.

Villanova: At Creighton on Saturday.

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.