Villanova Wildcats

Could this be final home game for Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson?

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Could this be final home game for Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson?

Breaking down Villanova's matchup this weekend.

Georgetown (15-13, 5-12 Big East) at No. 4 Villanova (26-4, 13-4 Big East), Saturday at 5 p.m.
Villanova will need some help this weekend to secure a share of its fifth straight Big East regular-season championship. Unfortunately for the fourth-ranked Wildcats, that help will have to come from the unlikeliest of places — last-place DePaul. If DePaul upsets Xavier Saturday and Villanova beats Georgetown, the Wildcats will split the regular-season title with Xavier. But if Xavier beats DePaul, the Musketeers will clinch the league crown outright and end Villanova's four-year run as league champs.

Xavier will be heavy favorites at DePaul. That game will be over by the time Villanova takes the floor to host Georgetown at the Wells Fargo Center. So chances are Villanova will know that a league championship is out of the question when its game starts. While that would certainly be a downer, I'd be shocked if it impacts the Wildcats' energy level one bit. There is still plenty to play for, namely a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova beat Georgetown by 32 points earlier this season. It was the largest margin of victory in the long and storied history of this rivalry and it came on the Hoyas' home floor. Georgetown is playing decidedly better than it was at that point of the season, so don't expect this game to unfold in similar fashion. But look for a high-level effort from Villanova in what could very well be the last home game in the careers of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.

Brunson and Bridges are juniors and each has another year of eligibility remaining following this season. But both are expected to give serious consideration to entering the NBA draft this spring. When Brunson made the decision to return for his junior year, much was made of the fact he's on track to graduate early. The prevailing expectation was he'd play his junior season, graduate in the spring or summer and start his NBA career. Brunson has put himself squarely in the National Player of the Year discussion with a terrific junior year. His NBA draft stock likely won't get much higher than it is right now.

Bridges, meanwhile, is widely regarded as a first-round pick if he decides to enter the draft. Some projections rank him as high as the 10th-best prospect in this year's draft class. He's picked up his game significantly in the last three weeks and very much looks the part of an NBA-ready performer. If Bridges is in fact told he'll be drafted in the first round, Jay Wright will tell him to go. It's the right decision and at this point the likely outcome.

Look for strong showings from Brunson and Bridges on Saturday. They understand this could be the last home game of their careers. The duo has won a lot of games in the last three years — 93 to be exact. They've won Big East regular-season championships, a Big East Tournament championship and a national championship. Now they set out for what might be one last journey through March.

Villanova 82, Georgetown 65 

Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

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Edwards leads Purdue to rout of reigning champ Villanova

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Carsen Edwards had a career night, scoring 42 points as Purdue knocked reigning national champion Villanova out of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night in an 87-61 rout.

Matt Haarms added 18 points and nine rebounds for the third-seeded Boilermakers (25-9), who advanced to their third straight Sweet 16.

Eric Paschall had 19 for Villanova (26-10), which saw its quest for a third national title in the last four seasons end during the tournament's first weekend. Fellow senior Phil Booth scored 15 points, putting him over 1,500 for his career.

Edwards has battled a sore back and had been in a recent shooting slump, making just 7 of 23 shots from the field in Purdue's first-round win over Old Dominion. He found the bottom of the net early and often against `Nova, making 12 of his 21 shots, including nine of 16 from behind the arc.

Purdue shot 54 percent while holding Villanova to just 20 baskets on 58 shots (34 percent).

Purdue jumped out early, building a 13-point lead thanks to Edwards' outside shooting and Haarms' work down low.

The 7-foot-3 Dutchman towered over the shorter Wildcats, who didn't start anyone over 6-8. He had Purdue's first four points on a dunk and a put-back. Edwards hit five of his nine first-half shots, all of which came from three-point range.

Purdue had nine three-point baskets in the first half and a dunk by Haarms put the Boilermakers up 43-24 at intermission.

Another dunk from the Dutchman extended the lead to 35 in the second half. Villanova chipped away but the sixth seeded Big East champions did not have weapons to make it a game.

Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

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Defending champion Villanova shows its experience in NCAA Tournament first-round win over Saint Mary's

BOX SCORE

HARTFORD, Conn. — Villanova got off to a slow start in defense of its NCAA championship against a determined, defensive-minded Saint Mary's team that came in confident after a season-defining win.

But the Wildcats, a No. 6 seed in this NCAA Tournament after an up-and-down season, have one thing no team in the field of 64 has: a pair of leaders who have won two national titles.

 NPhil Booth scored 20 points, fellow senior Eric Paschell added 14 and Villanova held off 11th-seeded Saint Mary's 61-57 on Thursday night.

"We're growing, our young guys are growing, but we have two seniors who do everything for us, on and off the court," coach Jay Wright said. "We're just so lucky to have them."

Sophomore Jermaine Sameuls added 12 points for the Wildcats (26-9), who led for almost 33 minutes, but never by more than eight points.

"The tempo was excruciating," Wright said. "We felt going in we were going to have to grind with them."

The Gaels used the same slow pace to upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament, and it gave them a chance against Villanova (26-9) in a tense opening-round matchup.

Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts each had 13 points for Saint Mary's (22-12). Ford's basket in the lane after a few nifty moves got the Gaels within six points at 61-55 with 34 seconds left.

After Paschell missed a foul shot on the other end, Fitts cut the deficit to four points with a leaner in the lane. The Gaels had two more chances in the final seconds, but Fitts hit the rim on a 3-point attempt and Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey stole the ball from Ford in the final seconds to seal the win.

"We had a few games this year where we put the press on and were able to get back in the game," said Ford. "And if we get a few of those loose balls, or maybe make a three when we were down four, I think it's a different game."

Saint Mary's led 30-28 at the half, but Booth scored the first five points after intermission during a 12-3 run that put the Wildcats up 40-33. He had 12 points and five of his six assists in the second half.

"We weren't doing that bad, actually," Booth said. "It was more that they were playing very well and we were trying to match how they were bringing it. I think we just had to take it to another level, because they were playing at a high level."

Big picture

Villanova: The defending champions are in the tournament for the 14th time in 15 seasons and improved to 14-1 since 2016.

Saint Mary's: The Gaels are 4-6 in opening-round games in the NCAA Tournament and 5-10 overall. Saint Mary's has advanced to the Sweet 16 once in the modern era when it beat the Wildcats in 2010. There's a reminder of that run in the hallway outside the locker room that the players see as they walk out to practice each day in McKeon Pavilion.

Empty arena

The game tipped to a relatively empty arena, but it wasn't because nobody had bought tickets.

Fans of the Wildcats, many of whom made the 4-hour drive from Philadelphia to Hartford, Connecticut, were lined up along with Gaels fans behind metal detectors as security emptied the arena from the afternoon session.

"You worry about those things, you know?" Wright said. "We have a lot of guys in the NCAA Tournament for the first time thinking, `This is the NCAA Tournament?' There's no one in the stands."

By halftime, the 16,000-seat XL Center was nearing capacity, but some frustrated fans were sill filing in.

From distance

The game was billed as a battle between one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams in Villanova against some of the nation's best perimeter defenders. In the end, the Wildcats finished 8 of 20 from behind the arc, while Saint Mary's was 8 of 22.

On the boards

The taller Gaels won the rebounding battle 33-29 and 10-5 on the offensive end. The Wildcats didn't have an offensive board until the second half and that led to an 11-4 advantage for Saint Mary's in second-chance points. Wright said this year's team was hurt by the transfer of 6-foot-9 Dylan Painter, but is going to have to find a way against taller opponents.

Up next

Villanova will play No. 3 seed Purdue in the second round Saturday.