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.

No. 5 Villanova hangs on to beat Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal

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No. 5 Villanova hangs on to beat Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Fifth-ranked Villanova walked into the locker room at halftime facing a double-digit deficit against Tennessee and several players battling foul trouble.

The way coach Jay Wright figured, there was at least one positive note: His Wildcats should be fresh and ready to roll out of the break.

Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday's semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis, earning a trip to the championship game.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of the break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

"I would love to tell you I came up with some great strategy," Wright said. "It was just we made it through the first half with everybody in foul trouble. ... We just said, `All right, we've got everybody back, let's go play, let's do what we were supposed to do.'"

Villanova shot 52 percent after halftime, fueled by Tennessee's 12 second-half turnovers that helped the Wildcats get loose on the break. The Wildcats also had an aggressive edge that got them to the line 24 times after halftime.

"That's how we should play, and throughout the whole game," said Mikal Bridges, who had 21 points. "You just saw parts of that today, in the beginning of the first half and the beginning of the second half. We practice every day trying to play like that for 40 minutes."

Villanova built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers (3-1).

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee, which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield's 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

"When they get points easily off turnovers, and out in transition, and also they get more possessions on offense, it's hard when you don't have those shot opportunities," Williams said. "I think their pressure really took us out of our offense.

"In the first half we did a good job of getting to what we wanted. In the second half, they just ran us out of what we wanted."

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Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half's worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

"We went in and they were feeling pretty good obviously and they were saying all the right things," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "But we didn't come out and do the right things."

Villanova: That's two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one -- full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor -- brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

Foul issues
Villanova had five players with at least two fouls by halftime, including starting forward Omari Spellman (three), Bridges (two) and Brunson (two). The game had a total of 52 fouls between the teams.

Brunson's scoring
Brunson scored 18 of his 25 points after halftime, finishing the game 8 of 16 from the field and 9 for 9 from the line to go with six assists.

"(Teammates) give me confidence," Brunson said. "Coach gives me confidence. I put the work in, I should have confidence in myself."

Second-half numbers
Villanova scored 14 of its 21 points off turnovers and 10 of its 12 fast-break points after halftime. The Wildcats also made 20 of 24 free throws after halftime and 33 of 37 for the game.

Up next
Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday's third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday's championship game.

No. 5 Villanova tops Western Kentucky, advances in Battle 4 Atlantis

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No. 5 Villanova tops Western Kentucky, advances in Battle 4 Atlantis

BOX SCORE

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Fifth-ranked Villanova failed to speed up Western Kentucky's controlled tempo and struggled to make shots through the first half of its Battle 4 Atlantis debut.

In the second half, the Wildcats looked far more like the high-scoring bunch that had cracked 100 points in each of their past two games.

Jalen Brunson scored 18 points while Villanova finally got loose in transition after halftime, helping the Wildcats beat the Hilltoppers 66-58 in Wednesday's opening round.

The Wildcats (4-0) found themselves in a close game until early in the second half. That's when they ran off a 13-2 burst to push ahead by double figures, part of a hot-shooting stretch that had them picking up the pace and scoring off turnovers.

"They usually play a little faster than that, but I think they were smart knowing they've got three days here," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "They controlled the tempo. ... Offensively they had us out of whack, and I think that had a lot to do with our poor shooting in the first half."

Villanova didn't get many easy scores in the first half and had just two fast-break points by the break, but had 14 in the second half while also scoring 16 of their 23 points off turnovers.

Villanova made 15 of 24 shots (63 percent) after halftime after shooting just 33 percent to lead 27-24 at the break. The Wildcats ultimately led by 18 points late.

"They find ways to have spurts and make runs," Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said. "And they were able to find a way to spurt out the second half a little bit on some turnovers."

Darius Thompson scored 16 points for the Hilltoppers (2-2), who shot 44 percent but struggled to maintain control with Villanova converting easy baskets off turnovers in the second half.

"I think our turnovers were kind of self-inflicted," Thompson said. "Just trying to do a little too much in the wrong times."

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Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers kept Villanova close through the first half and trailed just 34-33 early in the second. Still, the Hilltoppers fell to 1-13 in their last 14 games against ranked opponents.

"I'm really proud of our team's effort," Stansbury said, "but I think it's the way we kind of let the game get away from us in the second half that I'm most disappointed with."

Villanova: The Wildcats came in putting up big offensive numbers, including 113 points against Nicholls State and 104 more against Lafayette in their last two games. They didn't find that same roll here, though they ultimately built a big lead and cruised to the final horn.

"We still have to get a lot better," Brunson said. "We're still a work in progress."

Bridges’ roll
Brunson is a preseason Associated Press All-American, but Mikal Bridges is leading Villanova in scoring. The junior guard had set career scoring highs with 23 points against Nicholls and then 24 against Lafayette, and he followed with 17 points and eight rebounds in this one.

Bench spark
Sophomore Donte DiVincenzo scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half for Villanova off the bench. He finished a tough layup through contact for a three-point play at the 5:11 mark.

DiVincenzo has scored in double figures in three of four games this season.

"He's really an unselfish guy," Wright said. "We really have six starters, you can tell by the minutes. And he's a guy that just said, `I don't care, I'll do whatever you need me to do.'

"And he comes in off the bench and he's incredible, and brings great energy. He was awesome in the second half."

Up next
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers will face No. 18 Purdue in Thursday's consolation bracket.

Villanova: The Wildcats advanced to play Tennessee on Thursday.