Villanova Wildcats

Villanova vs. Lafayette: In return to FCS play, Wildcats host Lafayette in home opener

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Villanova vs. Lafayette: In return to FCS play, Wildcats host Lafayette in home opener

No. 7 Villanova (1-1) vs. Lafayette (0-2)
Villanova Stadium
Saturday, 6 p.m.

Fresh off an impressive showing in a loss to city rival Temple, Villanova returns to FCS play and welcomes Lafayette for its home opener.

Here’s a closer look at the matchup:

Scouting Lafayette
Picked to finish last in the Patriot League after a 2-9 season last year, the Leopards have once again struggled out of the gate. They dropped a 31-12 decision to Monmouth in their opener before falling to Sacred Heart, 38-24, last week. The good news for Lafayette is that its freshman quarterback, Sean O’Malley, threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns in just his second career start. The Leopards are also led by a first-year coach in John Garrett, who was hired to replace longtime head man Frank Tavani, making this something of a rebuilding year for a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2009. But they do have some players Villanova will need to keep an eye on, including all-league linebacker Brandon Bryant and tight end Dylan Wadsworth.

Scouting Villanova
After opening its season with a 38-35 win over Lehigh, Villanova had a valiant effort vs. Temple last week, rallying to tie the game before losing on a late Owls field goal, 16-13. Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk threw for 382 passing yards in the game — the team’s highest single-game total since 2005 — with receivers Ryan Bell, Taurus Phillips and Changa Hodge as his top targets. Jeff Steeb (eight tackles) and the ’Nova defense also had a big performance, although the Wildcats’ rushing attack was mostly bottled up in the loss.

History
Paced by two defensive touchdowns, Villanova rolled to a 31-14 victory over Lafayette last year in the first matchup between the two programs since 1920. Lafayette won that 1920 clash, as it did in 1898, 1899, 1914 and 1920. Saturday’s game marks the first time Villanova has ever hosted Lafayette.

Storyline to watch
Villanova owns a 30-4 record against Patriot League opponents since 1985, and should have little trouble improving that mark Saturday. The biggest thing to watch is how the players handle the emotions of a home opener and how well they can control the game on the ground, led by running backs Matt Gudzak and Aaron Forbes, against an overmatched opponent.

What’s at stake?
Saturday marks the final regular season non-conference game for Villanova, which will then play eight straight CAA contests. A loss would certainly be detrimental for their FCS playoff hopes but the most important part of the Wildcats’ schedule begins next week.

Prediction
It would be a surprise if this one was close.

Villanova 49, Lafayette 10.

Up-and-down week has Villanova steady in AP poll

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Up-and-down week has Villanova steady in AP poll

For the second week in a row, Jay Wright's Villanova squad endured a stunning upset and then followed it up with a statement victory.

And for the second week in a row, the Wildcats held steady in the AP Poll.

After falling 76-71 at Providence on Valentine's Day and then forcefully handling No. 4 Xavier 95-79 in enemy territory on Saturday, Villanova checks in at No. 3 in the AP Poll for the second straight week. This after the 'Cats spent the five weeks prior sitting pretty as the No. 1 team in the land.

The commanding victory at Xavier wasn't enough to propel Villanova ahead of No. 1 Virginia and No. 2 Michigan State. The Cavaliers received 42 first-place votes and the Spartans received 19 first-place votes. The Wildcats garnered four first-place votes for themselves.

Xavier held firm at No. 4 and Duke checked in at No. 5 to round out this week's top five.

March is looming and that means the Big East grind is winding down. The Wildcats, 11-3 in conference play and sitting in second place in the Big East behind 12-3 Xavier, own the tiebreaker over the Musketeers after Saturday's win. They have four regular-season contests left, starting with a home date vs. DePaul on Wednesday night. This week ends with a trip to Creighton on Saturday afternoon.

Take care of business and once again it looks like the Big East goes through Villanova, which has won the last four Big East regular-season titles.

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.