Villanova Wildcats

Villanova puts fresh faces on display in season-opening win over Columbia

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Villanova puts fresh faces on display in season-opening win over Columbia

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Villanova head coach Jay Wright used the word “interesting” a few times during his postgame press conference following the No. 6 Wildcats’ season-opening 75-60 win over Columbia on Friday (see observations).

All of their home games will be interesting, he said, now that the Pavilion is undergoing renovations and they have to change their routine to play at the Wells Fargo Center, as they did Friday night. 

And the makeup of the team? Well, that’s interesting, too, as four freshmen have found their way into the regular rotation: Omari Spellman, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels.

Against Columbia, the new quartet combined to play 58 minutes with Spellman and Gillespie, especially, showing a lot of promise.

“Some of our young guys are getting their first taste,” Wright said. “That’s what we’re gonna have to do this year.”

This is somewhat of a new situation for Wright, whose teams don’t rely on one-and-done players like other nationally renowned programs. Freshmen certainly get the chance to start right away, as Jalen Brunson, now a junior leader, did two years ago on the Wildcats’ national championship team. But Villanova has never been quite this reliant on young players in Wright’s tenure.

“We’ve gotta get young guys experience,” the ’Nova coach said. “It might look bad early. It might hurt early. But we have the potential in the end to be a good team.

Nobody on ’Nova is more highly touted than Spellman, who got the start down low and finished with a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) in his first collegiate game. 

Spellman has more experience than the other three freshmen since he’s a redshirt freshman who was academically ineligible last season. But he displayed the same kind of early jitters, making some mistakes before getting calming pep talks from Brunson and Eric Paschall.  

“I like that he rebounded the ball,” Wright said. “For a big guy, that’s the most difficult offense to guard and he did it in his first game. … Decision-making, communicating defensively, all those things, he’ll get better. He’s just gotta play. He hasn’t played a game in two years.”

Gillespie’s college career also got off to an inauspicious start as he airballed his first shot. But Brunson watched the freshman guard closely after that play and was impressed that he couldn’t detect a negative reaction.

He was even more impressed when Gillespie drained his next two three-pointers.

“His confidence is off the charts,” Brunson said. “You don’t see a change in his demeanor or anything. Not just Collin but all the young guys. We’re gonna get on them. As leaders, we have to step up and show them how to play Villanova basketball. And it starts with me.”

Brunson, a first-team preseason All-American, certainly showed a lot of leadership abilities on Friday, and took matters into his own hands when needed, too. He finished with 14 points, second on the team to Paschall’s 15. 

Wright is counting on big things from the two, along with fellow upperclassmen Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges (who scored eight points apiece), as well as sophomore Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench to score 13 points but who Wright said will get “starter minutes” throughout the season.

“Having Jalen and the other experienced guys is really [big]. If you’re just depending on the young guys, we’d be in trouble,” Wright said. “They will make those guys better. They do a great job leading those guys.”

Villanova fans didn’t see as much out of Samuels or Cosby-Roundtree, who were both held off the scoring column. But Wright said Cosby-Roundtree, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Philly’s Neumann Goretti, has a chance to be a “really special player in our program.” 

And he was pleased he didn’t really make any mistakes and that the rest of the freshmen showed poise, great passing ability and basketball smarts in a challenging first game against a disciplined opponent.

“It’s not that easy for guys to play for us right away,” Wright said. “But they’re picking things up. It was really good tonight.

“They’re excited, they’re freshmen. They’re going to get a lot better.”

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

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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

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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.