Villanova Wildcats

Villanova 'can't hear anything' in wild win inside loud Jake Nevin Field House

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Villanova 'can't hear anything' in wild win inside loud Jake Nevin Field House

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — Jay Wright has his team’s routine down pat before games at the Pavilion or the Wells Fargo Center.

But ahead of Wednesday’s game at Jake Nevin Field House, the Villanova head coach realized he had forgotten something.

“We didn’t have a pregame meal,” he said. “We’re so used to doing it the way we do it, we missed out on setting it up. We all walked to the cafeteria and ate in the cafeteria with other students."

Wright paused and smiled, an interesting realization setting in.

“That’s probably what everybody always did," he said.

Call it another nostalgic touch in a game filled with them.

Inspired by the ghosts of Villanova past, the Wildcats put on a memorable performance in the program’s first game at Jake Nevin Field House since 1986, rolling to a 90-62 win over Penn (see observations).

But it was only after the final horn sounded and they walked off the court at the old “Cat House” that they could enjoy it. During the game, they couldn’t really do much in the way of talking with each other.

“Wild atmosphere,” Wright said. “It’s a difficult place to play for everybody, including the home team. You can’t hear anything. We legitimately had trouble communicating defensively. … I can’t imagine what that place used to be like when they had more seats in here.”

On Wednesday, there were only about 2,000 fans in the building — Villanova’s home court from 1931 until the Pavilion, now undergoing renovations, was built in 1986 — but almost all of them were students who were standing the whole game, singing in unison during breaks in the action, and erupting after every Villanova bucket.

“It was honestly awesome,” said point guard Jalen Brunson, who led Villanova with 17 points. “It was definitely a great experience. Like Coach said, it was hard to hear sometimes. I tried reading lips. I couldn’t really hear him.”

Redshirt freshman Omari Spellman had similar issues with the noise, saying he had to ask teammate Mikal Bridges “the same question 50 times.” Some of that, of course, was his own doing as his thunderous dunk midway through the first half brought down the house and set the tone as ’Nova began to pull away.

What was he thinking about on that play, as he stole the ball at midcourt and streaked toward the basket?

“Oh, I double-dribbled,” he said. “The ref didn’t call it. I definitely double-dribbled.”

That was one of a few tough breaks for the Quakers, who actually played a decent first half but still went into halftime down 18 points. The game was never close again, although Penn head coach Steve Donahue didn’t point to the atmosphere as a reason for the lopsided defeat.

“It’s not that different, to be quite honest with you,” he said. “It’s very comparable to probably 150 programs in America who play in a similar facility.”

Donahue gave much more credit to the Villanova players, who never took their foot off the gas en route to their 19th straight Big 5 victory.

“Sometimes you watch them on film and you’re slightly underwhelmed because they don’t have crazy talent,” said Donahue, who coached in the ACC with Boston College for four years. “On tape, Villanova doesn’t jump out like other teams. But what’s apparent when you play them is I’ve never coached against a team that’s smarter and tougher and more selfless.”

Wright, who can be critical of his team, admitted his team played really well and that if it didn’t, an improved Penn squad might have been able to keep it close. 

But even though he’s pleased by it, he’s equally baffled by how well the Wildcats have been able to consistently throttle Big 5 opponents over the last five seasons.

“We live here,” he said. “We watch these teams. … We play against each other in the summers. Penn will come to our place in the summer and we’ll go down to Penn. We have great respect for them. We’ll play five games and sometimes Penn will win three out of five.”

He added he doesn’t like to think about the Big 5 streak, which could hit 20 if they can beat archrival St. Joe’s at Hagan Arena on Saturday. The Wildcats then face La Salle at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 10 before perhaps their toughest Big 5 game of the season — at Temple on Dec. 13.

Without the benefit of playing any games at the Pavilion, could their city streak end this season?

“I think you’re gonna see three other great games against Villanova,” Donahue said. “I do feel like we want to end that streak. There’s no doubt. 

“I do think Villanova has it going but that being said, I think those three programs could beat them this year because it’s the Big 5 and the kids know each other.”

Villanova moves up to No. 1 in the nation

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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

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Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth help No. 4 Villanova survive La Salle scare

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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.