Villanova Wildcats

How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

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How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

BOX SCORE

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.

Villanova beats Quinnipiac, cruises to another win ahead of test vs. Michigan

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Villanova beats Quinnipiac, cruises to another win ahead of test vs. Michigan

Updated: 12:13 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Having been a part of the coaching staff that brought Phil Booth to Villanova, Quinnipiac coach Baker Dunleavy knows exactly what the Villanova senior is capable of.

"He's every bit as good as any player in the country and I think he'll show that this year," Dunleavy said.

Booth scored a career-best 23 points in No. 9 Villanova's 86-53 victory over Quinnipiac on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center, where a 2018 national championship banner was raised.

Booth, a senior, made three of his six attempts from beyond the arc and shot 7 for 16 overall. He added three rebounds and five assists. Booth missed most of 2016-17 with knee issues and part of last season with a hand injury. He's now averaging 20 a game through two contests.

Villanova (2-0) led by double digits from the 13:10 mark of the first half onward and led by as many as 37. The Wildcats out-rebounded Quinnipiac, 50-29, and grabbed 20 off the offensive glass, leading to 26 second chance points.

Dunleavy, who played at Villanova and was on the team's coaching staff from 2010 to 2017, told Villanova coach Jay Wright that he knew the "buzz-saw" was coming after watching the tape from Villanova's season opening win against Morgan State.

"We really wanted to come in here and build confidence by playing this game," Dunleavy said "It's hard to do that when you get jumped on early and that's what happened."

Quinnipiac made one of its first 11 attempts from the floor, allowing Villanova to build an early 18-3 lead less than 10 minutes into the game. Villanova, which shot 7 of 15 from beyond the three-point arc in the first half, got a three pointer from freshman Saddiq Bey before the first half buzzer sounded to take a 47-20 lead into halftime.

The Wildcats, at that point, had more points on three pointers than the Bobcats had total points. Villanova forced nine first half turnovers.

"Our full-court pressure really did a good job," Wright said.

Joining Booth in double figures for the Wildcats were sophomore guard Collin Gillespie, who shot 4 of 6 from deep and finished 16 points, and senior forward Eric Paschall, who scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting and added eight rebounds and three assists.

Cameron Young's 18 points paced Quinnipiac.

Homecoming
Dunleavy played at Villanova in the early 2000s under Wright and later joined his coaching staff in 2010. In his second season at Quinnipiac, Saturday marked the first time Dunleavy faced his former mentor.

"It's fun to see all those guys, but not under these circumstances," Dunleavy said. "This is a one time thing."

Wright said it wasn't particularly comfortable for him, too.

"It seemed like a good idea when we talked about it, but then when it comes the week before and I'm watching film of them do what we do, I said to our team, whatever play we call, they know everything we do," Wright said. "It's going to be tough to run specific plays. I didn't particularly enjoy it, really."

Big picture
Quinnipiac: In their season debut, the Bobcats got behind early and couldn't recover against their elite opponent. A less daunting stretch of nonconference games awaits.

Villanova: In a warmup before playing No. 19 Michigan at their newly renovated on-campus stadium, the Wildcats showed off their deep but relatively young rotation for the second consecutive game.

"We weren't thinking about Wednesday coming into this game," Booth said. "We were thinking about Quinnipiac. That was our main focus. Now it's time to get ready for Michigan."

Up next
Quinnipiac: Hosts Hartford on Thursday night.

Villanova: Hosts No. 19 Michigan on Wednesday night.

Villanova opens national title defense with win over Morgan State at refurbished Pavilion

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Villanova opens national title defense with win over Morgan State at refurbished Pavilion

Updated: 10:05 p.m.

BOX SCORE 

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Villanova started to head out for the second half toward its rehabilitated court when it somehow got lost in a maze of exits and sprinted out the wrong end.

"Everything's a first," coach Jay Wright said. "We're figuring it out."

The Wildcats will quickly get used to the intricacies of their digs.

They already seem quite at home, and as dominant as usual, at the new-look Pavilion.

Eric Paschall scored 26 points, Phil Booth had 17 and No. 9 Villanova opened its national championship defense with a 100-77 win over Morgan State on Tuesday night.

"I feel like we have great potential," Paschall said.

The Wildcats always do — they've won 12 straight games dating to last season and won their 16th consecutive season opener.

The new kid on the block that shone the most was the refurbished Pavilion, which closed for a season and forced the Wildcats to play a year in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center. Villanova's on-campus court underwent a $65 million facelift that would have made the Property Brothers jealous.

The Wildcats couldn't put a price tag on their sweetest accessory — the 2018 national championship banner raised high above midcourt. Under Wright, Villanova has won two of the last three national championships, and seating for this season is at a premium. StubHub had lower level tickets selling for $375 shortly before tip, and a gym that for three decades had a skeleton crew of concession stands suddenly had deep-pocketed donors noshing on fried shrimp, $10 Wildcat burgers and taking a nip of top-shelf booze.

"Man, it was loud, it was jumping the whole time," Wright said. "I thought the crowd was great. There's a different vibe in here. It's definitely louder. It's pretty cool."

Bad news for the Big East, the Wildcats have more of a homecourt edge.

The Pavilion's courtside press row seating was stripped to make room for 88 courtside seats, there was club seating for the first time and the concourse also wrapped 360 degrees. The lights were dimmed for an NBA-worthy lineup introduction -- kind of a big deal considering in the old joint derisively known as the "ski lodge," it took 20 minutes for the entire building to light up once the switches were flipped.

On opening night, the Pavilion was lit.

Artificial noise was pumped in and fans were encouraged to stand until the Wildcats scored their first basket. It didn't take long. Collin Gillespie hit a 3 and the Wildcats hit from long range much like they did against Michigan in the title game in San Antonio, Texas.

They just didn't look like the same Wildcats.

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 win over Michigan — is with the Milwaukee Bucks. That's a ton of talent that walked out the door, but the Wildcats were eager to showcase the replacements. With the Wildcats up 15 in the first half, they had Booth, who has two national championships, and four freshmen on the court.

"We actually weren't trying the lineups. We were trying for fresh bodies," Wright said.

Saddiq Bey, one of those freshman, hit 3s on his first two shots and scored 16 points. Jahvon Quinerly buried a 3 for his only bucket.

Paschall made his first six baskets and scored 19 points in the first half. Paschall and Booth showed the veterans will lead the Wildcats early will the underclassmen find their way.

"We have to listen to the old guys like Eric and Phil," Bey said.

Big picture
Morgan State: Isaiah Burke led the Bears with 17 points. Morgan State took advantage of weak Villanova defense. The Bears started 12 of 24 from the floor and only trailed 54-43 at the break. They only trailed 64-57 with 12 minutes left in the second half before the Wildcats pull away. The Bears made only five 3s to 12 for Villanova.

Villanova: The rich get richer — on the court and, well, around it — and there's little reason to think the Wildcats won't again be in the national title picture.

Bear necessities 
Morgan State had more points in the paint (48-40), points off turnovers (22-10) and off the bench (45-36).

Up next
Morgan State stays in Pennsylvania with a game Friday at St. Francis.

Villanova has one more tune-up against Quinnipiac on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center before it has a national championship game rematch against Michigan.