Villanova Wildcats

How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

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How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

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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.

Hot-shooting Villanova beats Xavier for sixth straight win

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Hot-shooting Villanova beats Xavier for sixth straight win

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Phil Booth scored 22 points, Collin Gillespie added 18 and No. 22 Villanova beat Xavier 85-75 on Friday night for its sixth straight win.

Eric Paschall added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats (14-4, 5-0 Big East), who shot 50 percent from the field and made 15 3-pointers to remain the only unbeaten team in the conference.

Tyrique Jones led Xavier (11-8, 3-3) with 21 points and 12 rebounds while Naji Marshall scored 15. The Musketeers were coming off come-from-behind wins over Georgetown and Butler.

Trailing by 11 early in the second half, Xavier went on an 8-0 run, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from Marshall and Ryan Welage, and pulled within one on Paul Scruggs' 3 with 10:56 remaining.

Booth and Jermaine Samuels combined for the next eight points, with Booth hitting a 3-pointer that bounced high off the rim and dropped through the net. Gillespie helped seal the win with his third 3-pointer of the half to put Villanova up 67-55 with six minutes left.

Gillespie shot 6 for 10 from 3-point range while Booth, who's scored at least 20 points in each of his last four games, made 5 of 9 attempts from behind the arc.

The first half was a study in contrasting styles as all but three of Xavier's points came in the paint while Villanova made eight 3-pointers on 18 attempts. Zach Hankins, a 6-foot-11 graduate transfer from Ferris State who was the 2018 NABC Division II Player of the Year, paced Xavier with all 12 of his points before the break.

The Wildcats were missing an inside presence as the team announced before the game that 6-9 freshman Cole Swider will be sidelined indefinitely after fracturing a bone in his right hand during practice on Thursday.

Big picture

Xavier: The Musketeers, who edged 'Nova for the 2018 Big East regular-season title, now have as many losses in the league as they did all of last season. They are winless against Villanova on the road in six tries since the inaugural season of the reconfigured Big East in 2013-14.

Villanova: Chasing their fifth Big East regular-season championship in six years, the Wildcats moved a full game ahead of second-place Marquette. They returned to the AP Top 25 this week for the first time since mid-December.

Up next

Xavier hosts Providence on Wednesday night.

Villanova visits Butler on Tuesday night.

Phil Booth ignites second-half surge as Villanova beats Creighton

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Phil Booth ignites second-half surge as Villanova beats Creighton

OMAHA, Neb. — Villanova called on Phil Booth again. As usual, he delivered.

Booth scored 19 of his 28 points after halftime to ignite the Wildcats' surge as they came from behind to beat Creighton 90-78 on Sunday.

"He's got an incredible humility about him where when you need him, he's there," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "If you don't need him, he's doing all the little things and he's not complaining. It's what makes him a great leader and great player."

Booth made all four of his 3-pointers in the second half and scored eight straight points early in a 26-6 spurt that turned Villanova's 47-38 deficit into a 64-53 lead with 9 minutes left. The Bluejays had two scoring droughts of more than 4 minutes as Villanova (13-4, 4-0 Big East) pulled away.

The defending champion Wildcats came back from sizeable deficits for the third time in four games. They trailed by 13 before beating No. 24 St. John's on Tuesday and by 14 in a win over DePaul on Jan. 2. Booth hit the go-ahead 3-pointer late and scored 23 points against St. John's.

The fifth-year senior said his work is a reflection of the team.

"It's how resilient we are, how mentally tough we are from being down a lot throughout the season," Booth said. "It's learning how to stay calm and doing what we do to fight back and stay aggressive no matter what happens."

For the Bluejays (10-7, 1-3), the loss came after they twice led by nine and followed their crushing overtime home loss to No. 21 Marquette on Wednesday. In that game, they gave up a Big East-record 53 points to Markus Howard and blew a three-point lead with less than a second left in regulation.

"To beat Villanova, it takes tremendous discipline on both ends of the floor," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "I've said on numerous occasions, they just don't beat themselves and they have two of the better players in the league in Booth and Paschall, and they certainly showed that today why they are in that position."

Eric Paschall, also a fifth-year senior, had 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Collin Gillespie made four 3s while scoring 14.

Ty-Shawn Alexander made five 3-pointers and scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half as Creighton got out to a nine-point lead. Villanova clamped down on Alexander in the second half, limiting him to two field goals.

The Bluejays were up nine again early in the second, at 47-38, before Villanova stormed back.

Booth led the Wildcats to their first lead since the opening four minutes after Paschall converted a nice pass in the lane from Gillespie. Booth made three free throws after getting fouled shooting a 3-pointer and then a jumper and 3-pointer to put Villanova up 48-47 with 16:36 left.

The Bluejays got it back to 51-all, but Booth made two straight 3s to open another 13-0 spurt that broke it open again.

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Villanova: The Wildcats have won five straight and are the only unbeaten team in Big East play. They played their best half of the season on defense in the second half, limiting up-tempo Creighton to 40-percent shooting and 36 points.

Creighton: The Bluejays, who played without injured starter Damien Jefferson (calf, ankle) have lost three straight Big East games and now have to go on the road for back-to-back games.

"We had a really short bench today," McDermott said, "and there were some matchups that were just awful for us given the guys we have available to us. But I thought they fought and competed. Today we got beat by a better team."

Help on the way
Wright is excited about the development of some of his younger players like Jermaine Samuels (13 points, six rebounds, two blocks), Saddiq Bey (seven points, six rebounds) and Jahvon Quinerly (seven points, three rebounds).

"We could be sitting here 7-10 and waiting for those guys, but Phil and E have carried us," Wright said. "Now Jermaine is starting to prove (himself), Quinerly gave us great minutes, Saddiq is starting to get better. It's what we need if we're going to be a good team. Phil and E can't carry us the whole season. They'll get worn down. But the younger guys are starting to come and that's what we're going to have to have to get road wins and beat teams like Creighton."

Up next 
Villanova hosts Xavier on Friday.

Creighton visits St. John's on Wednesday.