Villanova Wildcats

Villanova survives to avoid rare consecutive losses

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Villanova survives to avoid rare consecutive losses


NEWARK, N.J. — For nearly the last five years, there's been something that Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats could be counted on following a loss — to keep it at just one loss.

So on the heels of a stunning upset loss to Creighton on Saturday, the Wildcats responded in the only way they know how. 

Despite blowing an 11-point second-half lead, struggling offensively all night and needing an extra five minutes of playing time, No. 4 Villanova got by Seton Hall, 69-68, on Wednesday at the Prudential Center. 

Plagued by shooting woes all night, Villanova (26-4, 13-4) grabbed a five-point lead under two minutes into the overtime period and held off the Pirates the rest of the way. Mikal Bridges, who scored a team-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Jalen Brunson, who added 12 points, came up large for the Wildcats in overtime with 11 of their 17 points.

Khadeen Carrington led the Pirates (20-10, 9-8) with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. 

Wright's Wildcats still haven't dropped consecutive games since March 3, 2013, when they lost to Pitt on the road following a loss to Seton Hall.

• Ugly would be a generous way to describe both teams' first-half performances on the offensive end. Seton Hall shot at a 20.7 percent clip from the field (6 for 29, while connecting on just 1 of 12 attempts from deep). But Villanova could only build a lead as large as six in the first half because of its own offensive woes. The Wildcats, who entered the break leading 24-18, shot 32.3 percent from the field and hit on just three of their 15 threes.

• The first-half struggles for both sides carried into the early stages of the second half but, with the help of a pair of bad fouls by Seton Hall on three-point shot attempts, Villanova stretched its lead out to a game-high 11 at 36-25 with 12-plus minutes left and appeared on its way to an easy win ...

• ... but Myles Powell had other plans. The Pirates' guard single-handedly ignited their offense with a personal 8-0 run, which was the start of a 14-2 Seton Hall burst. That run gave the Pirates their first lead, 39-38, since the 12:07 mark of the first half. Villanova responded with a quick 6-0 run, but Seton Hall refused to go away and would regain the lead with under three to play.

• Facing a 49-48 deficit with 46 seconds remaining, the Wildcats got clutch buckets from Brunson and Bridges to go ahead, 52-49. A pair of free throws from Carrington cut it to one and, following a missed free throw from Brunson, a Carrington split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 52-52. Donte DiVincenzo's triple at the buzzer was off the mark, as the teams headed to overtime.  

• Even as Villanova held a seven-point lead with 25 seconds left in OT, Seton Hall kept fighting back. Following an Eron Gordon triple, Villanova threw the ball away on the inbound pass and Powell scored off the turnover. After Omari Spellman split a pair of free throws, Carrington answered with a dunk to cut it 67-66.

With the Pirates forced to foul, Brunson knocked down both free throws with six seconds remaining. On the ensuing possession, Villanova fouled Carrington with one second left before he could get a three-point attempt off. Carrington made the first but banked home the second, preventing the Pirates from having a shot at tipping in the tying bucket.

• Bridges was the only player that had anything going on either side in the first half, scoring nine of the first 11 points for the Wildcats, including their first seven. Bridges faded some after the hot start, but he came on late in regulation and OT.

• Earlier Wednesday, Brunson was named one of the 10 semifinalists for the Naismith College Player of the Year award. While he had a rare off night overall (just 14 points on 6 of 15 shooting and zero assists), he hit big buckets late in the second half and in OT, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the final eight-plus minutes of the game. 

• Seton Hall was without freshman guard Jordan Walker (thumb) and leading scorer Desi Rodriguez, who missed his second straight game with a left ankle injury. Carrington had a heroic performance in 44 minutes of action, but Rodriguez was certainly missed by the Pirates. Their next three top offensive threats — Carrington, Powell and Angel Delgado — combined for 43 points on 14 for 45 shooting from the field.

• The Wildcats will close out their regular season on Saturday in a matchup with Georgetown at the Wells Fargo Center. Then, it will be on to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. With No. 3 Xavier beating Providence on Wednesday, the Wildcats remain a game out from the top seed in the conference tournament. Xavier closes its regular season at DePaul on Saturday.

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.