NCAA

NCAA Tournament: Mikal Bridges, from redshirt to 'vital part'

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NCAA Tournament: Mikal Bridges, from redshirt to 'vital part'

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — Mikal Bridges did everything for Villanova last year. He practiced, he traveled, he watched video, he sat in meetings.

He did everything but play in actual basketball games.

“I don’t know how he stayed sane,” Josh Hart said. “I’m not sure I could have done it.”

Bridges not only stayed sane during his redshirt year but also learned enough to become a key reserve on a team that spent three weeks this winter ranked No. 1 in the country.

“Going through the whole year and not being able to play, it was something I got used to, but it was still tough not playing with your teammates,” Bridges said.

“I just tried to be as supportive as I could be, get them hyped up before games. Telling them little things I saw on the court from the bench. I couldn’t be out there, but I got to watch and I could pick up on some things they didn’t see.

“You always want to be out there with your brothers, but it was a great learning experience coming into this year. I’m a freshman this year, but I did everything besides play last year so I knew how everything went, how coach likes things, how we do our scouting, so I was a freshman with a real good advantage. But you always wish you were out there.”

Now Bridges, a native of nearby Lower Merion Township, is playing and he’s helping. He’s unique physically at 6-foot-7 with long arms, tremendous athleticism and an ability to defend that’s rare for freshmen. He can run the floor, get out on the break and finish in transition. He can slam with the best of them. And he's even hit 20 three-pointers this year.

Coming off the bench for the 29-5 Wildcats, Bridges is playing 20 minutes per game and averaging 6.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 steal.

He’s one of only three freshmen in the Big East averaging at least six points, three rebounds and one steal per game and one of only three freshmen in all of Division I averaging 6.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 steal in 20 minutes or less.

But the numbers aren’t really important. What Bridges does best — and what makes him a true Villanova Wildcat — is his ability to defend.

“You know, at this time of year, he becomes far more important because you play bigger teams,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “He was great against Seton Hall defensively on (Big East Tournament MVP Isaiah) Whitehead. He gave us length out there. JayVaughn Pinkston used to do it for us. He could guard a guard. That’s what’s so amazing. He’s going to be a lot more valuable in the (NCAA) Tournament.”

Bridges also made two of three shots and all four of his free throws in the Big East Tournament title game, a two-point loss to Seton Hall. He was actually Villanova’s third-leading scorer Saturday with eight points and second-leading rebounder with six boards.

“And that was at the Garden and was as electric an atmosphere as we’ve ever seen,” Wright said. “So for him to do that in his first Big East Tournament, that was big for him.”

Bridges and the Wildcats open play in the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 12:40 p.m. against UNC Asheville at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (see story).

“I love coming in and just playing hard,” Bridges said. “Whatever it takes to win. Anything. Do whatever I’m asked to do.

“It gives me more confidence knowing [Wright] has confidence in me and my teammates have confidence in me. They build my confidence up. I’m playing the way I am because of them. Because they always have my back.

“Hearing the seniors tell me, ‘You got this,’ or, ‘You can do this,’ hearing it from them, knowing they believe in me, that means a lot. Big-time.”

Interesting note about Bridges:

He’s made 51 of 71 two-point attempts this year, and his 71.8 field goal percentage from two-point range is sixth-best in Division I among players who’ve attempted 50 or more.

“I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” Bridges said. “I think the most important thing ... beginning of the year, I really played hard, really defended, but I was just out there wild.

“Now, I feel like I’m playing smarter. I’m defending and rebounding, paying more attention to detail, getting better and better concentration and understanding the scouting report better.”

Hart is a first-team all-conference pick and remained on the Naismith Award watch list as one of the top 35 players in the country when it was trimmed from 50 at midseason.

And Bridges’ numbers as a freshman are pretty similar to Hart’s numbers two years ago in his freshman year.

“I’m proud of him,” Hart said. “That’s my guy. Came in, I hated him. He would always — open gym — always fouling and all that. I hated him. That whole summer I hated him.

“But just to see how much he’s improving. Took the whole redshirt year and obviously had low points. He wanted to play, he wanted to help us. But he’s a vital part of this team. Gives us great energy off the bench, especially defensively.

“He’s one of the guys, he doesn’t care about offense. He says, ‘I’m going to guard Kris Dunn, I’m going to guard Isaiah Whitehead, I’m going to go guard these elite, dynamic guards, the best in the country,’ and he doesn’t back down.

“That’s the biggest thing he’s bringing us right now. And he’s only going to get better.”

Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

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Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Charles Matthews set the tone with a slam and celebrated by flexing to the crowd.

Quickly, the rematch turned into a rout.

Matthews scored 19 points, Ignas Brazdeikis had 18 and No. 18 Michigan beat No. 8 Villanova 73-46 Wednesday night in their first meeting since last season's national championship game.

Villanova captured its second title in three years with a 79-62 victory over Michigan in April but was completely overmatched in the second game at its newly renovated Pavilion.

"I don't think when I'm out there," Matthews said, explaining his emotional reaction to a basket less than 90 seconds into the game. "It was a fun, exciting game. I got the dunk and I screamed."

Eric Paschall scored 10 points and Phil Booth had nine for the Wildcats (2-1).

The Wolverines (3-0) jumped ahead early and never let up. They led 10-2 less than five minutes in and expanded the lead to 22-8 on Matthews' jumper midway through the opening half. A 17-3 run followed, giving Michigan a 39-13 lead. Matthews' dunk and consecutive 3-pointers from Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole highlighted the run.

Matthews capped the impressive first half with a steal and layup to send Michigan to the locker room with a 44-17 lead.

"I'm very impressed with Michigan," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Really like their team, great togetherness, great execution. It's my fault I'm running a lot of guys out there. We're not as organized as we want to be. We're trying to figure out a lineup early in the season. We didn't have the cohesiveness to play a good team like that."

Villanova's frustration was evident after Michigan's Zavier Simpson's flagrant foul led to a brief scuffle with Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree near midcourt with 13 minutes remaining and Michigan leading 52-24.

The Wildcats couldn't make any push in the second half, and fans hit the road early.

"They executed way better than we were prepared to play defense," Booth said.

Neither team looked like the two squads who met in San Antonio seven months ago.

Villanova lost four players who were drafted in the first 33 picks of the NBA draft. AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Omari Spellman is with the Atlanta Hawks. Mikal Bridges landed in Phoenix after a draft-night trade with the 76ers, and Donte DiVincenzo — who scored 31 points in the title game — is with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Michigan lost three of its top four scorers. Moe Wagner, the star big man, was drafted by the Lakers in the first round and is playing in Germany. Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman graduated.

"They're a young team and they lost a lot of people," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "This is a November win. That's all it is. We have to learn from it, forget it and get ready for our next game."

Impressive freshman
Brazdeikis' teammates love his attitude and confidence on the floor.

"Iggy is like a mean pit bull," Simpson said.

The Finn
Bill Finneran, the Villanova alum who was the lead donor for the school's on-campus court that underwent a $65 million face-lift, was honored at halftime.

"The worst game you're going to see here," Finneran told the crowd.

Big picture
Michigan: Brazdeikis showed he can score against tough competition, performing well against top defender Paschall. Brazdeikis and Matthews give the Wolverines a formidable wing duo going forward.

Villanova: Showed its youth, giving Wright plenty of teaching points. The Wildcats relied on 3s the first two games, taking more shot attempts from beyond the arc than inside. They couldn't get them to fall from long range, going 3 for 15.

Up next
Michigan hosts George Washington on Saturday.

Villanova hosts Furman on Saturday.

Ryquell Armstead runs for 6 touchdowns in Temple's win over Houston

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Ryquell Armstead runs for 6 touchdowns in Temple's win over Houston

BOX SCORE 

Ryquell Armstead ran for 210 yards and six touchdowns and Temple outlasted Houston with a 59-49 win on Saturday night.

Armstead finished a touchdown shy of the school's single-game TD record Montel Harris set against Army in 2012.

Temple (6-4, 5-1 American Athletic Conference) forced Houston to three-and-out on its first possession. Ty Mason blocked Dane Roy's punt on fourth down, Braden Mack returned it the Cougars' 8-yard line and Armstead ran it in two plays later from 3 yards out. D'Eriq King was sacked and fumbled on Houston's next possession and Temple recovered. The Owls drove 66 yards in 12 plays and Armstead crashed in from 4 yards out to score.

Temple built a 28-14 halftime lead and extended it when Armstead ran for a 33-yard touchdown to start the third quarter. King threw for a score and ran for another, but the Owls responded with two TDs of their own for a 49-28 lead.

King passed for 322 yards and five TDs and ran for 125 yards and a score. Houston fell to 7-3, 4-2.