Villanova Wildcats

Villanova falters late in stunning upset

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Villanova falters late in stunning upset


OMAHA, Neb. — A Creighton season that was beginning to head in the wrong direction righted itself in glorious fashion for at least one afternoon.

The Bluejays came into their game against No. 3 Villanova on Saturday having lost three straight in the Big East. Starting forward Ronnie Harrell Jr. was out of the lineup because of a foot infection, and they were down eight points with 4 minutes left in regulation.

With Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas leading the way and two freshmen making major contributions, Creighton came back to defeat the highest-ranked opponent in program history with its 89-83 upset of the Wildcats in overtime.

"Sitting in the locker room, I couldn't stop smiling," said Foster, who scored 28 points. "I'm so happy how we won that game. We've been talking these last three games about how we want to play, and then to go out and execute what we said we wanted to do, it's a great feeling right now."

Creighton (20-9, 9-7 Big East) won for the first time in nine games against Villanova since 2014. The Bluejays also avenged a 20-point road loss to Villanova on Feb. 1.

"We always get a great game from Creighton, especially here," Nova coach Jay Wright said. "You know on the road in this league you're going to play in great environments against great teams. You have to be one step ahead of them to win on the road, and we weren't today. They were one step better."

Villanova (25-4, 12-4) had taken a 68-60 lead in regulation thanks to eight straight points from Jalen Brunson, but the Wildcats missed seven of its last nine shots in overtime as Creighton tightened its defense.

Davion Mintz scored on his own putback to put the Bluejays ahead 78-76, and Jacob Epperson made it a four-point game with two free throws with 1:45 left in the extra period.

Brunson lost control of the ball under his basket on the Wildcats' next possession, and Phil Booth committed a flagrant-1 foul before Mitch Ballock scored for Creighton to make it 84-78.

"I've had some good wins over the course of my career, and I've coached some special teams," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "I don't know if I've ever been as proud of a group as I am right now. If you're going to be successful against Villanova, you can't turn it over and give them run-outs, you have to find a way to hang in there on the boards and you have to have toughness. We did all three good enough."

Khyri Thomas made five straight 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes to set a career high and finished with 24 points. Ballock added 13 and fellow freshman Epperson had all 12 of his points after halftime.

Brunson led the Wildcats with 22 points, Mikal Bridges had 18 and Omari Spellman added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Ballock's 3-pointer gave Creighton a 72-71 lead with 30 seconds left in regulation, and Thomas went to the free-throw line with a chance to put the Bluejays up by three.

But he missed the free throw, and Donte DiVincenzo was fouled on the rebound. DiVincenzo made one of two free throws to tie it 72-all, and the game went to overtime when Bridges blocked Foster's layup try just ahead of the buzzer.

"I told them at the start of overtime, `You get to play five more minutes in the greatest game of your life,'" McDermott said.

Big picture
Villanova: The Wildcats are 3-3 in their last six games and are one game behind Big East-leading Xavier with two regular-season games left.

Creighton: Thomas' early barrage of 3-pointers created energy the Bluejays lacked in their last three conference games, and Epperson's big second half and overtime showed they just might be able to overcome the season-ending injury to big man Martin Krampelj.

Up next
Villanova visits Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Wildcats won the first meeting 92-76 on Feb. 4.

Creighton hosts DePaul on Tuesday. The Bluejays won the first meeting 76-75 on Feb. 7.

Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

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Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

VILLANOVA, Pa. — There were many reasons why Villanova was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And many more for why it's one of just two top seeds still standing.

The Wildcats do a lot of things well. They have depth, they can shoot from three, they defend, they are well-coached and they play hard. But perhaps their greatest attribute isn’t physical or psychological.

It’s experience. 

Of 'Nova’s core six, five were on the national championship team two seasons ago. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth played key roles on that squad. Donte DiVincenzo (injured) and Eric Paschall (transfer) were on the team but did not play. Having players that talented and that seasoned can’t be quantified. Not to mention a coaching staff still in tact from that title team. 

Between that run in 2015-16 and playing one of the toughest schedules in the country in a battle-tested Big East conference, there is nothing this group has not seen.

“Obviously the playing experience is most important but having coaches who have been in it," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said Monday. "Having guys like Donte, Eric, who were sitting out, be a part of that '16 run — that’s important, too. They learned a lot, they picked up a lot. To be able to share that experience with the young guys, I think that helps this team a lot.”

DiVincenzo agreed with his coach's sentiment.

“We’ve seen the biggest stage," the redshirt sophomore guard said. "Although myself and Eric were not playing, we were there and witnessed it and we know what it takes not only to win it but to get there.”

Next up for Villanova is the Sweet 16 and fifth-seeded West Virginia on Friday night in Boston. The Mountaineers begin guarding you in the parking lot. It is a 90-foot torture test of relentless pressure, end to end. A brutal matchup for any team.

But rest assured, Villanova will be prepared and won’t be overwhelmed. 

“No matter what the stage is, we don’t care," Bridges said. "You can put us anywhere, we’re going to play the same game. We tell the young guys, 'Don’t think of it as the Sweet 16, think of it as the next game.'"

It may be more than just the next game.

But the moment won’t be too big for this bunch that’s seen it all.

How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

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How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama


PITTSBURGH — Mikal Bridges hit five 3s, scored 23 points and helped No. 1 seed Villanova put the field on notice that it's the team to beat with an 81-58 win over ninth-seeded Alabama on Saturday.

The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth -- and yes, The Big Ragu -- look every bit the favorite to make it two in three years.

Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.

The sport is still buzzing from top-seeded Virginia's 20-point loss to 16th-seeded UMBC on Friday night.

Alabama (20-16) failed to make it two No. 1s KO'd in less than 24 hours.

After a tense first half in a round that has given the program fits, the Wildcats hit their first six 3s in the second and put on a thrashing up there among the most dominant under coach Jay Wright.

Bridges, who averaged 17.9 points and played his way into a likely NBA draft lottery pick, scored 1 point and missed all five shots in the first half. He found his groove once the second half tipped. Bridges scored the first 5 points of the half and then finished a thunderous alley-oop on a pass from Booth that made it 41-27 and sent the Wildcats wildly waving their arms in celebration headed into a timeout.

Bridges hit his first three 3s in succession to cap an 18-1 run and a Sweet 16 berth was in sight.

Brunson added a 3 to make it 56-31 and the rest of the half was simply a countdown to Boston. Villanova made 17 of 41 3s.

The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 seed in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Villanova got a brief scare that it might add `18 to the list against Alabama.

The Wildcats live-and-die by the 3-pointer -- they say, "shoot em' up and sleep in the streets" -- and when it's on, look out. The Wildcats are as dangerous as any team in the nation.

When it's off, well, that's how they're so upset-prone in March. They missed eight of their first 11 3s in the first half and Alabama briefly grabbed the lead.

Donte DiVincenzo steadied Villanova with three straight 3s that brought a gasp from the crowd and gave the Wildcats a 22-15 lead. He threw in a fastbreak layup off his own steal and hit his fifth 3 of the half to make it 32-27.

DiVincenzo -- the redheaded guard nicknamed "The Big Ragu" -- scored all 18 of his points in the half. Villanova attempted 20 3s (made seven) out of 27 shots.