Villanova Wildcats

Villanova basketball notes, quotes and tidbits: Donte DiVincenzo poised for bigger role

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Villanova basketball notes, quotes and tidbits: Donte DiVincenzo poised for bigger role

VILLANOVA, Pa. — For the first time since its 65-62 loss to No. 8 seed Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Villanova’s men’s basketball team took the court in front of a live audience.

The Wildcats and head coach Jay Wright held their annual Blue and White Scrimmage Saturday at Jake Nevin Field House in front of a crowd of about 1,000.

With the Pavilion undergoing a $60 million renovation project, Villanova will play a majority of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center this season.

During the course of the scrimmage, Wright held some intrasquad games and mixed in some drills, essentially an amplified version of a normal practice.

Wright, entering his 17th season on the Main Line, was mic'd up for the scrimmage and ultimately was pleased with the event. 

“(Saturday's) scrimmage was good for us and it was a really valuable experience,” Wright said. “We got to play some game situations in front of a crowd, which was our very first time this season with this group. Getting the game speed with the referees was good.”

DiVincenzo poised for huge season
If the 2017 NCAA Tournament was any indication of Donte DiVincenzo’s basketball future at Villanova, Wildcats fans have a lot to look forward to.

The then-redshirt freshman averaged a team-high 18 points against Mount St. Mary’s and Wisconsin. DiVincenzo showed a lot of composure and promise on the big stage. 

DiVincenzo said the end of the 2017 season was huge for his confidence and pushed him to be even better.

“Playing with three good seniors in Josh [Hart], Kris [Jenkins] and Darryl [Reynolds] last year was important,” DiVincenzo said. "They were pumping me up all year and when it came down to it, things started flowing for me. Losing early in the NCAA Tournament gave me so much more drive to work harder in the offseason especially after losing three great players.”

It was no different at the Blue and White scrimmage on Saturday. DiVincenzo showed great vision and great bounce off of the dribble in a strong showing.

While there were pauses in the scrimmage and drills filtered in between, DiVincenzo put together a solid performance. He hit four three-pointers and made three layups.

He also showed his strength in the paint on an and-one where he collided with redshirt sophomore forward Tim Delaney and was able to convert the floater.

DiVincenzo’s court vision stood out immediately. He was able to penetrate into the lane and kick the ball out to the perimeter for open looks from behind the arc on multiple occasions.

“A lot stands out to me about Donte,” junior guard Jalen Brunson said. “His work ethic has grown and he has become a tremendously better player. You guys saw his ability today and it is only going to get better. His playmaking ability stands out. He is not always looking to score and likes to get his teammates involved.”

After seeing success on the court that resulted in Big East All-Freshman team honors as well as the Big 5 Rookie of the Year, DiVincenzo didn’t get complacent in the offseason.

He focused on improving his shooting and ball handling. The guard from Wilmington, Delaware, spent a majority of his time in the weight room getting stronger.

“It is exciting to see Donte grow and continue to want to improve,” Wright said. “He finished strong last year and he did not relax in the offseason. He went to work and wanted to get better and you can see the improvement in everything he does — his ball handling, his shooting and his confidence level.”

'Nova’s versatility
Villanova showed its versatility Saturday, featuring a small-ball lineup and the ability to play big as well.

The Wildcats' guards are athletic and long, which can pose problems for opposing offenses. Brunson, freshman Collin Gillespie and redshirt junior Phil Booth are all 6-foot-3 and DiVincenzo is the tallest at 6-5.

“We are very versatile this year,” Brunson said. “We have guys that can drive and we have guys that can spot up. Everyone has a strength but we are working on all aspects of our game. All the hard work we have been putting in this summer will pay off when the season comes.”

The guards can spread the floor and are knock-down shooters as well. Gillespie, who connected on a couple of three-point attempts Saturday, looks to be a key contributor for Wright’s squad this season.

“I think our versatility is one of our strengths,” Wright said. “We have a number of guys that can play a number of different positions and are willing to do it. Mikal [Bridges], Eric [Paschall], Donte [DiVincenzo] and Jermaine [Samuels] are capable and willing to play one through four.”

Extra notes
• Freshman Omari Spellman, who missed last season because of an academic redshirt mandated by the NCAA, and Booth, who missed all but three games because of left knee inflammation, didn’t participate in the scrimmage. Wright said Spellman is dealing with a bone bruise and Booth is dealing with “annoying tendinitis” in his left knee.

• Wright was asked about the difference between entering this season and the 2016-2017 campaign when Villanova was fresh off a national championship.

 “I think we have been given a lot more freedom in terms of expectations and attention, which is kind of nice,” Wright said. “It was alright the other way, too. We are a lot more relaxed around here but I wouldn’t trade it for coming off a championship. I also think this team is different. It is a lot less experienced than we have had and I think we have a chance to be good by the end but we may not look as good early.”

• Freshman Jermaine Samuels hit the game-winning three-pointer in the final intrasquad scrimmage.

• DiVincenzo showed his defensive capabilities on a strip of Brunson, resulting in a layup on the fast break. He also blocked Brunson at the rim.

• Villanova opens its season Nov. 10 at the Wells Fargo Center against Columbia.

Villanova knows better than to overlook next opponent

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Villanova knows better than to overlook next opponent

Previewing one of Villanova's final games of the regular season:

No. 3 Villanova (25-3, 12-3 Big East) at Creighton (19-9, 8-7 Big East), Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Third-ranked Villanova is getting healthy at just the right time. Wednesday's 93-62 blowout win over DePaul marked the first game since Dec. 5 that Jay Wright had a full nine-man rotation at his disposal. Phil Booth returned for the victory over DePaul, Booth's first game since breaking his hand back on Jan. 23.

Booth didn't miss a beat, scoring 14 points in 16 minutes off the bench. He provided his typical scoring punch in addition to being a steadying presence defensively. The fact that Booth should get four regular-season games under his belt before the Big East Tournament bodes well for Villanova. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wright continue to use Booth as a sixth man in order to leave Donte DiVincenzo in the starting lineup, where he has flourished over the last month.

While Jalen Brunson remains a leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors, Mikal Bridges has transformed into the Wildcats' leading man as of late. The reigning Big East Player of the Week scored 27 points against DePaul and is averaging 23.7 points in the last three games. Given the presence of Brunson, Booth and DiVincenzo on the perimeter, opponents can't afford to double-team Bridges. And there aren't many players in the country who can guard him one-on-one. Look for Bridges to remain in attack mode with March right around the corner.

Villanova has three regular-season games remaining. If the Wildcats win all three, they would win a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship. The next hurdle comes in the form of a trip to Creighton Saturday. The Bluejays have hit a rough patch with four losses in their last six games, including a 23-point thumping at Butler on Tuesday. But Villanova is well aware of how dangerous Creighton can be playing in the raucous CenturyLink Arena in Omaha.

The Wildcats will show the proper respect for Creighton despite the Bluejays' recent struggles. Look for the Wildcats to move one step closer to another Big East championship on Saturday.

Villanova 80, Creighton 70

Villanova cruises in Phil Booth's return

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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.