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Villanova NCAA Tournament Notes: Wright's fashion faceoff with Huggins

Villanova NCAA Tournament Notes: Wright's fashion faceoff with Huggins

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It's the NCAA Tournament, so a little smack talk is in order.
 
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins started things off Wednesday during his press conference at KeyBank Center, taking aim at Villanova coach Jay Wright.
 
"I keep telling him, if I'd lose a little bit of weight, he'd be the second-best looking coach out there," Huggins said.
 
OK, so maybe it's not exactly bulletin board material for the Wildcats, who will begin defense of their national championship Thursday night against 16th-seeded Mount St. Mary's (see story).
 
Huggins, who will lead his team against Bucknell, dished on his relationship with Wright.
 
"I think he's a heck of a coach," he said. "We had just great games when we were both in the Big East."
 
The topic eventually turned to fashion, and Huggins explained how it came to be that he is known for wearing a pullover during games. The short story is that he sweated through a suit and tie one game so badly he needed to change at halftime.
 
That led to Wright being asked about his fashion sense.
 
"The reason that I dress that way, it's just been the tradition, you know, in coaching you wear a suit and tie," he said. "But Hugs is -- I would like to do an article on the lines Hugs gives me before the game when you shake hands about your attire, his attire, your look, his look. It's great. It could fill an article.
 
"I like Hugs' look. When you wear a nice suit and you're in the huddle and they're sweating on your suit, the guys are dripping on top of you. I'm thinking, 'Why am I wearing this nice suit?' But it's tradition."
 
Battling old memories in Buffalo
Buffalo hasn't made the best impression on Josh Hart.
 
The Wildcats' senior guard was part of the Villanova team that lost as a No. 2 seed to UConn in 2014. The Huskies went on to win the national championship that year.
 
"I remember that one vividly," Hart said. "Shabazz Napier, that UConn team, they were tough and talented, but we try not to think about that too much now.
 
"Obviously, you know, we knew we were playing in Buffalo. That was the first thing. When we heard Buffalo, we were like, 'We went there freshman year. We had a tough game against UConn there.' But now, we don't really think about it. I think the only time we thought about it was the first time we heard we were probably going to be going to Buffalo. And it was like, 'Oh, Buffalo.'"
 
Hart and his teammates arrived in western New York Monday in an effort to beat a snowstorm that hit much of the East Coast. The weather in Buffalo has been pretty much what you might expect -- snowy.
 
"I thought I'd get to see the sun," Hart said. "I hope that's not what it's like up here all 365 days. I mean, I like the warm weather, so I don't want to say go back home because I think it's snowing in Philly, too. We just got to tough through it the last couple weeks and put up with the weather. So I guess you could say we feel like Buffalonians."
 
The Wildcats holed up inside their team hotel Monday night.
 
"We watched a movie together. That was really about it," Hart said. "I wish I could tell you we had like this epic snowball fight and it was amazing. But, no, not really. We've just been in our rooms, just relaxing, taking our mind off the tournament, and just enjoying each other's company."

Know your foe
The Wildcats gathered as a team Tuesday night to watch Mount St. Mary's victory.
 
Senior forward Darryl Reynolds came away impressed with what he saw.
 
"They're a good team," he said. "They're a good team like every team in this tournament. They play fast, they seem to play hard. They're disciplined in their coaching."
 
After he was done responding, Reynolds moved toward the microphone and said, "Sorry if I wasn't talking loud enough. I just realized I could have leaned a little bit forward. … I'm sitting here whispering. I'm sorry about that."
 
"You're coachable. Good work," the press conference's moderator replied.
 
One shining moment
Get ready to see arguably the greatest moment in Villanova history on repeat.
 
Kris Jenkins' game-winning three-pointer in the national championship game against North Carolina last year immediately became one of the iconic plays in college basketball. Jenkins, however, insisted again Wednesday that it's just that to him -- history.
 
"I don't even think about it," he said. "I talk about it when I'm asked about it. It wasn't hard for me because I still have a lot that I want to accomplish. I'm a part of this great team with these great guys and the guys in the locker room. So, when you have guys around you like that, it's easy to refocus."

That ability has amazed Wright.
 
"He's a confident, cocky -- in a good way -- kid," the coach said. "We talked about it right after the season. And he's real bright. He's really bright. When we talked about, 'You still got a year left, you want to get better, you got this for the rest of your life.' He right away internalizes that."
 
Wright has specifically watched Jenkins during practice to see if there is ever a moment he lets his guard down.
 
"When the guys do shooting drills at the end of practice or they're doing competitions, you would think one time it would slip, 'I hit the big shot,'" Wright said. "I've never ever, ever seen him mention it ever, and it's really impressive."

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

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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.

Another stumble for sloppy Villanova

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Another stumble for sloppy Villanova

BOX SCORE

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Providence will need to play its best basketball of the season down the stretch if its hopes to earn its fifth straight NCAA tournament bid.

The Friars just took a big step toward that goal.

Kyron Cartwright scored 17 points and the Friars withstood several late surges to stun third-ranked Villanova 76-71 on Wednesday night.

Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo each added 14 points for the Friars (17-9, 8-5 Big East), who snapped a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

It was Providence's first win over Villanova since Jan. 24, 2016. With the victory the Friars greatly improved their at-large resume for the NCAA tournament. They moved into a tie for third-place in the Big East with Creighton, who they split with this season.

Coming off an 80-63 loss to DePaul, Diallo said this victory gives the Friars' locker room a needed jolt.

"I think this was a big game for us confidence-wise," he said. "It's not every day you basically have the No. 1 team coming into your building."

Mikal Bridges had 19 points for Villanova, but fouled out with 1:12 to play in the game. Jalen Brunson added 14 points.

Villanova (23-3, 10-3) pulled within 59-54 on a pair of free throws by Omari Spellman with 6:25 left. But the Friars outscored the Wildcats 8-4 over the next two minutes to push the lead back to 67-58.

Collin Gillespie gave the Wildcats a chance after his layup trimmed Providence's lead to 72-69 with 29 seconds left. Cartwright then connected on 1 of his 2 free throws on the other end.

Villanova missed on its ensuing possession and was forced to foul with 20.6 left. Cartwright again hit 1 of 2, and Eric Paschall made a layup on the other end to make it 74-71.

The Wildcats fouled again with 12.8 left, but this time Diallo was able to convert on a pair of free throws.

"They just outplayed us. We were ready to go. They were just better," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I thought we would have played a little bit better. We didn't."

Spellman, who entered the night leading the team in rebounding, wore a protective mask after suffering a fracture to a small facial bone during Saturday's win over Butler.

He stayed active underneath the basket, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds. The extra opportunities helped the Wildcats outscore the Friars 44-20 in the paint.

But Villanova struggled from the outside, missing 17 of 20 3-point attempts. The Wildcats also finished with 19 turnovers.

"They were just really physical," said Wildcats guard Jalen Brunson, who finished with 14 points, but had seven of the turnovers. "We were giving up the ball. You gotta be strong with the ball."

Providence has five games remaining, including a trip to fourth-ranked Xavier.

Providence coach Ed Cooley said he's comfortable flying under the radar for now.

"We don't want to be talked about," he said. "We're the little red engine just trying to come up the street."

Big picture
Villanova: It's a setback for the Wildcats, who were trying to keep pace with conference-leader Xavier. They have now lost two of their last three.

Providence: The Friars still need to bolster their NCAA resume, but this is their second win this season over a top 5 team, having beaten Xavier last month.

Where’s the respect?
As happy as he was with the victory, Cooley said he doesn't think Villanova is getting the respect it deserves nationally in the polls.

"They should be the No. 1 team," Cooley said. "I'm tired of Villanova not being respected the way they should nationally. ... I don't know who's doing all the voting, but tell Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles they're looking at the wrong crew."

Up next
Villanova: Visits fourth-ranked Xavier in the second meeting this season between the possible No. 1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Wildcats beat the Musketeers 89-65 last month.

Providence: Visits Butler on Saturday.