Villanova Wildcats

A super Sunday for No. 1 Villanova, too

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AP Images

A super Sunday for No. 1 Villanova, too

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Villanova turned the site of its latest romp into the scene of a Super Bowl pep rally.

The final horn caused a celebration -- not just because the Wildcats won, but to signal the certain Eagles bash ahead.

Omari Spellman hit six 3 pointers and had 26 points, 11 rebounds and helped No. 1 Villanova kick off a rousing day in Philadelphia sports with a 92-76 win over Seton Hall on Sunday.

The Wildcats (22-1, 9-1 Big East) won their ninth straight game in front of a crowd dotted with green jerseys and chanting for the Eagles hours before the Super Bowl.

"I love the Eagles," Villanova coach Jay Wright said, "but this is way more important to me."

Villanova's win served as the sports appetizer for a city absolutely whipped into a frenzy, with fans lined up hours before kickoff around the block to get into sports bars to watch the Eagles play the New England Patriots.

Mikal Bridges, who scored 17 points, hit a 3 with 2:22 left for a 21-point lead that seemed to serve as the cue for fans to turn their full attention toward the Super Bowl. They put on dog masks (an Eagles rallying symbol) and chanted "We Want Brady!"

For about 25 minutes, the Pirates (17-6, 6-4) served the Wildcats a serious scare.

Villanova's Eric Paschall slammed into the court with such a thump it could be heard way up high and subbed out for a quick breather on the bench. Paschall's timeout was brief. He hit a 3 that tied the game at 48-all.

Jalen Brunson, a top candidate for national player of the year, followed with another 3 that snapped a tie game and served as the offensive flare that Nova was set for its usual decisive run.

It was that time.

Paschall dunked on the next possession and Bridges came flying out of nowhere down the baseline to put back a missed shot that sent the roaring crowd to their feet in appreciation.

Khadeen Carrington, who averages 14.2 points, was whistled for his fourth foul just 6 minutes into the half and Bridges blocked a shot that sent the ball soaring over Seton Hall's bench.

Myles Powell steadied the Pirates with a pair of 3s that kept pulled them to 62-60. Spellman hit a 3 and Bridges nailed a three-point play to help the Wildcats start to pull away. Powell hit one more 3 that gave Seton Hall a feint glimmer of hope but that's about all teams get these days against Nova.

"You've got to almost play perfect when you play Villanova on the road," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said.

Seton Hall was one underdog Philly had no interest in rooting for an upset.

The "Good Luck, Philadelphia Eagles!" sign flashed on the big screen as fans belted out "Fly, Eagles, Fly!" at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Pirates played the first half like the team that spent most of the season in the AP Top 25 and reached as high as No. 13. Seton Hall shot 49 percent from the floor and Angel Delgado hurt Villanova inside with 10 points and six rebounds. Delgado finished with 18 points and Desi Rodriguez had 20.

Seton Hall and Butler have been the only thorns in Villanova's Big East side since the conference was reconfigured in 2013. Each team had defeated Villanova three times -- or, six of the program's 12 losses over that span.

Spellman hit three 3s in the first half and scored 15 points to give the Wildcats a 41-37 lead at the break. He has brushed aside the sting of sitting out last season because of eligibility issues,

"It was just hard for me because I wanted to help my teammates win," Spellman said. "I just really wanted to be there on game day. I was there for them, just not in the same way."

Spellman has a smooth stroke from the perimeter for a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward, the kind of frame usually reserved for banging under the boards, not sinking 3s like Steph Curry.

"I've never had somebody as complete as that with size and strength," Wright said.

Big picture
Seton Hall fell to 3-2 this season against Top 25 teams.

Wright, an Eagles season-ticket holder, had said this week he planned to watch the Super Bowl in downtown and enjoy the experience with the rest of the city. The Wildcats were the last area team to win a major championship when they won the 2016 national title.

His prediction: Eagles over Patriots 27-24.

Double technical
Powell shoulder bumped Donte DiVincenzo then shoved him in the chest late in the second half. Both players were whistled for technical fouls.

Up next
Seton Hall hosts Marquette on Wednesday.

Coming off a startling win over No. 4 Duke, St. John's plays Wednesday at Villanova. 

Up-and-down week has Villanova steady in AP poll

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USA Today Images

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.

Bridges leads Villanova to massive road win over fellow top-5 team

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USA Today Images

Bridges leads Villanova to massive road win over fellow top-5 team

BOX SCORE 

CINCINNATI — With the Big East's bragging rights at stake, Villanova showed it's not ready to relinquish its reign.

Mikal Bridges led an early 3-point shooting spurt that put Villanova in control, and the third-ranked Wildcats beat No. 4 Xavier 95-79 on Saturday in a showdown for control of the league.

As it has nearly every time, this one went to `Nova.

The Wildcats (24-3, 11-3) have won all four regular-season titles since the league was reconfigured. Xavier (24-4, 12-3) had a chance to take control of the race, but simply wasn't up to the Wildcats' level in the biggest game of the season.

Now, Xavier's lead is down to a half-game and Villanova has swept the head-to-head series.

"I think we wanted to send ourselves a message, not necessarily about the title race but about playing Villanova basketball," said Dante DiVincenzo, who finished with 21 points. "We knew we weren't playing Villanova basketball."

Bridges scored 25 points in a balanced attack that got the best of a matchup between the league's top offenses. Trevon Bluiett had 26 points for Xavier, which had its nine-game winning streak snapped. Villanova made a season-high 16 3-pointers, the most ever by a Xavier opponent.

"They hit a lot of tough 3s, but we've just got to play tougher," said Xavier's Naji Marshall, who had 11 points. "When you play elite teams, there's little margin for error."

The Wildcats ended their three-game shooting slump by making 11 3s in the first half, when they pulled out to a 19-point lead and silenced a raucous crowd at the Cintas Center, where Xavier had been undefeated this season.

"We came out together and played harder than we usually do," Bridges said. "We've got to keep that up. We can't settle. We can't relax."

Bluiett led a second-half surge that cut it to 64-61 with 11 minutes left before Bridges' basket blunted the comeback. Xavier had a pair of turnovers, and DiVincenzo hit back-to-back 3s as the Wildcats rebuilt their lead to double digits and pulled away.

"When they shoot the ball the way they did today, it will take a monumental effort to beat them," Xavier coach Chris Mack said.

In the end, it was like the last four games between the league's heavyweights. Villanova has won 10 of 11 against Xavier in the Big East, the last four by margins of 25, 22, 24 and 16 points. Xavier hadn't lost since an 89-65 defeat at Villanova on Jan. 10.

Big picture
Villanova: The Wildcats rely on their 3-point shooting but had been in a slump the last three games, going 17 of 71 from beyond the arc. They had their worst game of the season during a 76-71 loss at Providence , going 3 of 20. Villanova went 11 of 19 from beyond the arc in the first half on Saturday. After missing their first seven 3-point tries in the second half, they found their mark and pulled away, finishing 16 of 34.

Xavier: The Musketeers came out overly aggressive -- three fouls in the first 26 seconds -- and missed eight of their first 12 shots, including several layups. They've had bad first halves in their last four games against the Wildcats, leading to the double-digit losses.

"We were excited playing `Nova in our gym," Marshall said. "I think we came out a little too excited."

Big win
It was the second-largest win by Villanova against a Top-5 team under coach Jay Wright, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Getting heated
Villanova's Omari Spellman and Xavier's Paul Scruggs got technical fouls for yelling at each other during the Musketeers' comeback in the second half. The two had to be separated.

Big matchup
It was only the second time in the Cintas Center's 18-year history that a pair of Top 5 teams faced off. The other time resulted in Xavier's only win over Villanova in Big East play. The No. 5 Musketeers beat the No. 1 Wildcats 90-83 on Feb. 24, 2016.

Moving up
Bluiett surpassed David West for second place on Xavier's career scoring list with 2,140 points.

Up next
Villanova: Wildcats host DePaul on Wednesday, followed by games at Creighton and Seton Hall before finishing at home against Georgetown.

Xavier: Musketeers play at Georgetown on Wednesday. They beat the Hoyas in overtime 96-91 at the Cintas Center on Feb. 3. They finish at home against Providence -- one of the teams that beat them -- and at DePaul.