Villanova Wildcats

Villanova ranked 6th in AP preseason basketball poll

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Villanova ranked 6th in AP preseason basketball poll

Villanova is sixth in The Associated Press preseason basketball poll, which was released Wednesday.

The Wildcats sit behind, from five to one, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona, Michigan State and Duke, which is No. 1 for the second straight season and ninth time as a program, matching rival North Carolina for most all-time.

Villanova lost Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds but still has Jalen Brunson, named the conference's preseason player of the year, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo.

Plus, Phil Booth, one of the title game heroes from two seasons ago, should be returning, as will big man Omari Spellman, who was selected preseason freshman of the year (much more on him here). Spellman missed last season after being ruled ineligible right before the season.

Villanova opens its regular season next Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. The Wildcats have an exhibition Wednesday against Drexel in Jake Nevin Fieldhouse. The game is being held to benefit hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Duke received 33 of 65 first-place votes in the poll, Michigan State received 13, Arizona had 18 and Kansas received one.

Wichita State is seventh, Florida eighth, defending national champion North Carolina nine and Southern California rounds out the top 10.

Northwestern (No. 19) is ranked in the preseason poll for the first time in school history.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Villanova falters late in stunning upset

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Villanova falters late in stunning upset

BOX SCORE 

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 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