Villanova Wildcats

Villanova bounces back with milestone-filled night

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Villanova bounces back with milestone-filled night

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No. 3 Villanova had a week to stew over its first loss of the season, a 101-93 loss to Butler last Saturday in Indianapolis, and figure out a way to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of its mouth.

“We had a long week after getting our butts kicked,” Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said.

“No one was in a good mood.”

A trip home to South Philly, career nights from two less-heralded Wildcats and a typically steady night from the always-heralded Jalen Brunson was just what Wright ordered on a milestone night.

Eric Paschall tied a career-high with 19 points, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree added a career-high 10 of his own and Brunson added a team-high 27 (and eight assists) as Villanova held off a late Marquette surge to down the Golden Eagles, 100-90, at Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.

The win pushed the ‘Cats record to 14-1 on the season and 2-1 in Big East play. The Golden Eagles’ fell to 11-5 overall and 2-2 in the conference.

With victory No. 400, Wright inched closer to becoming Villanova’s all-time wins leader. Alexander Severance, who coached on the Main Line from 1936-61, is currently atop the list with 413 victories. If Villanova goes on another long tear, Wright could tie Severance as early as Feb. 21 vs. DePaul and vault past him as early Feb. 24 at Creighton.

Ever the spotlight-shunning coach, Wright, knee-deep in his 17th season at Villanova, predictably was coy when asked after the game about his achievement.

“I’m just happy we took a step defensively tonight,” Wright said. “I promise you, one day when I’m finished that I will look back on it with great pride. I promise you that. And I will feel really good about it. I’m happy to have been here that long. That’s really nice.”

Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski took a much different route when asked about the achievement of his Saturday evening counterpart. He went the effusive-praise route.

“Jay’s as good a coach as there is in the United States,” Wojciechowski said. “In my mind, he’s a future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer. The league right now goes through Villanova. I think he handles the mantle of being the marquee coach in our conference as much class and dignity as you can handle it. He’s created an incredible program at Villanova.”

On the court, the redshirt junior Paschall got the ‘Cats off to a burning-hot start with three early treys to help put overmatched Marquette into a hole the Golden Eagles never could claw their way out of. Villanova’s first-half lead reached as many as 14 points. For the game, it went as high as 17 early in the second half.

“The only thing I thought about was just to shoot it,” said Paschall, who entered the contest shooting just 25 percent from three-point land on the year. He hit all three attempts Saturday. “I don’t really think about that. I just have to play defense.”

Cosby-Roundtree, the 6-foot-8 true freshman forward out of South Philly’s Neumann-Goretti High, filled his line on the stat sheet on a perfect 5 for 5 from the field. All 10 of his points, including a huge dunk on a fast break, came in the first half when the ‘Cats built up their insurmountable advantage.

Cosby-Roundtree is set to have an expanded role in the coming weeks with fellow big Jermaine Samuels both on the shelf with a hand injury. If Saturday was a taste of what’s to come, Wright surely liked what he saw.

“Dhamir was awesome. I’m so happy for him,” Wright said. “It’s hard to come into this program as a freshman, especially as a freshman big. We need him. And he did a great job.”

It’s almost easy to take Brunson’s smoothness on the court for granted. Coming off a showing at Butler when he scored 31 points to match a career-high, he controlled the floor with his 27 points on 8 for 15 shooting 9 for 11 from the free-throw line and and steadied Villanova when Marquette pushed back in the second half and cut the lead down to as little as five as late as 43 seconds left.

“They’re a great team and they have a great point guard,” Wojciechowski said. “Any team with a double-figure lead with a point guard like Jalen Brunson, who’s as good a guard there is in the country, catch-up is not the ideal place to be.”

You want balance? Try this on for size: six Wildcats finished in double figures. That’ll get the job done.

The Wildcats knew they’d be in for a stiff test against Marquette junior guard Markus Howard, who made national headlines earlier in the week, and rightfully so, for his spectacular 52-point performance in a 95-90 OT victory at Providence Wednesday night. And Howard got his. He poured in a game-high 37 and led the late, ultimately unsuccessful Marquette scare.

“Markus just got it going,” Wright said of Howard, who went 13 of 27 from the field, including 5 for 13 from downtown, and 6 for 6 from the line. “It was almost just like the Providence game. Once he got it going, there’s just not much you can do. When you trap him, the other guys are good enough that they can make plays. You play him one-on-one and he jumps into you and creates contact and gets fouls. … We tried to take away his threes, but we gave up traditional threes.”

But, still, that wasn’t enough to topple the mighty Wildcats, who have now not lost two straight games since March 2013. The last time the ‘Cats lost two straight was when they dropped a 74-55 decision to Louisville in the second round of the Big East tournament and then absorbed a 78-71 defeat at the hands of North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament a week later. That was so long ago that Louisville as a Big East member is like ancient history.

“I never think about that and then every time it happens and someone says it to me, I think that’s really cool,” Wright said of his program’s incredible streak. “I like that. I like it a lot. I think it says a lot about our guys. I think it says a lot about the character of our guys.

“Every time you guys say it, I think, wow, that’s really cool. I like to say I take pride in it. But I don’t think about it. When you say it, I’m proud of it. But I’ll forget about it tomorrow.”

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned here is that win or lose a game, we’re coming back the next day to get better,” Brunson said. “Obviously, if we lose a game it’s going to refocus us a little bit. But we want to get better every time we step on the court.”

And the next time they step on the court, all the baby blue Villanova eyes turn to the game of the season this coming Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center when No. 5 Xavier comes to town for a titanic nationally televised showdown.

The Musketeers will likely not be as high as No. 5 after an 81-72 loss at Providence earlier Saturday. But still, Big East supremacy and bragging rights are on the line.

To the victor goes the jump-start to the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney. To the loser goes perhaps a season-long game of catch-up, as Wojciechowski said, is not the ideal place to be.

No. 21 Villanova beats Saint Joseph's for 25th straight Big 5 win

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No. 21 Villanova beats Saint Joseph's for 25th straight Big 5 win

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VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Villanova soared to the top of the college basketball world by capturing national championships in two of the last three seasons.

The Wildcats have been kings of their own city for much longer.

Eric Paschall had 14 points and nine rebounds, and No. 21 Villanova beat Saint Joseph's 70-58 on Saturday for its 25th straight Big 5 victory.

Joe Cremo and Phil Booth scored 12 points apiece as the Wildcats (8-2) continued their dominance of the long-standing city series with Philadelphia rivals Saint Joseph's, Penn, La Salle and Temple. Jermaine Samuels added 11 points.

"It's just the intensity of it," Samuels said. "We're getting every team's best shot. They're not giving up. That's the biggest takeaway I've gotten from these Big 5 games."

Lamarr Kimble led Saint Joseph's (5-5) with 22 points. The Hawks played without Charlie Brown after the top scorer in the Atlantic 10 sprained his ankle in a win at Princeton on Wednesday.

Saint Joseph's struggled offensively, shooting 34.5 percent (20 for 58) from the field. The Hawks went 6 for 27 from 3-point range and 12 for 18 from the foul line.

"We've been getting kicked in the (butt) all year with missed layups," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "I think the same thing happened today."

Trailing 62-40 midway through the second half, the Hawks went on a 16-0 run to make things interesting. But a Booth 3-pointer and a Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree three-point play with 1:05 remaining helped seal Villanova's sixth straight win.

"We're starting to get more organized," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I think guys are starting to get more comfortable with each other. But we still have a lot of work to do."

Fresh off come-from-behind Big 5 victories over La Salle and Temple, Villanova began to pull away from Saint Joseph's late in the first half, taking a 38-28 lead into halftime on the strength of four 3-pointers from Cremo and two from Paschall, including one in the final minute.

The Wildcats extended their lead to 48-31 three minutes into the second half after back-to-back buckets from freshman Cole Swider capped a 10-0 run. Swider scored all eight of his points in the second half.

"It's hard as a freshman to come into these games," Wright said. "That's going to be the story of the season - how we can develop our young guys and our new guys."

No. 23 Villanova survives a scare from La Salle

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No. 23 Villanova survives a scare from La Salle

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Villanova coach Jay Wright was raised on Big 5 hoops and considers himself a bit of a keeper of the city series' legacy. He's also quick to warn the Wildcats that anything can happen when Philly teams play at the Palestra.

"It brings me back to childhood," Wright said. "Every time I step in this building, it's a special experience. Once the game comes, I just know crazy things are going to happen. I just expect it."

Winless La Salle came primed for an upset — but the only unpredictable part of a Villanova game against a city rival is the final score of its latest win. Eric Paschall scored 27 points, Phil Booth had 19 and No. 23 Villanova held off one more upset in an 85-78 win over La Salle on Saturday.

Villanova (6-2) remained the class of the city and won its 23rd straight Big 5 game, round-robin play among five Philadelphia Division I basketball teams. The Wildcats haven't lost a city series game since Dec. 5, 2012 against Temple.

They got a pretty good scare against winless La Salle (0-8).

The Wildcats were reeling after consecutive home losses to Michigan, in a national title game rematch, and in overtime to Furman that knocked them out of the AP Top 25 poll. Villanova steadied itself with three straight wins in a Florida tournament and defeated then-No. 14 Florida State in the title game to return to the rankings.

But a return to Philly only unsettled the Wildcats early.

La Salle was the home team at the Palestra, which serves as much a museum to Philly's glorious history as it is a court for city series games to be played on. The Explorers played the first half like an undefeated team instead of a winless one and buried nine 3-pointers. The sensational sequence came at the midway point: David Beatty drew a foul on a layup and La Salle kept possession. Isiah Deas capitalized with a 3. Beatty had a steal and Jack Clark hit a 3 for a 32-20 lead that set the stage for a monster upset.

The rest of the half turned into a 3-point shootout worthy of NBA All-Star weekend, and the Wildcats closed to 42-39 at the half. The Wildcats, who lost players from the title team to the NBA, could never really shake the Explorers until the waning moments.

"We had the great confidence that over the last few years that we were eventually going to wear people down," Wright said. "Well, none of those guys are on this team, so that confidence isn't there."

That puts more responsibility on championship holdovers Booth and Paschall.

"We know how coach thinks. Whenever coach tells us something, we try to teach it to the younger guys as quick as possible," Paschall said.

Traci Carter's 3 pulled the Explorers to 69-66 and they got it within one with 5:24 left. Miles Brookins lobbed a lazy pass into the middle that was picked off by Saddiq Bey and converted into a three-point play by Booth. Paschall sucked the air out of La Salle fans with a dunk for a 78-72 lead.

Wright kept former assistant coach Ashley Howard winless in his first season on the bench at La Salle. Howard, who worked five seasons under Wright, was hired at La Salle just a week after the Wildcats won their second national championship in three seasons.

"These guys have no weaknesses because all these guys can shoot," Howard said.

The Explorers are forced to wonder how much better their upset odds would have improved had leading scorer Pookie Powell not sat out with an injury (lower body). Carter scored 17 and Deas had 15.

Big picture
Villanova: Wright made it 2-0 this season against the branches of his coaching tree. He also beat former assistant and current Quinnipiac coach Baker Dunleavy in November.

La Salle: Also played without guard Cheddi Mosely (concussion) and forward Jared Kimbrough (foot). The Explorers made 11 of their first 15 shots in the second half.

Long distance
La Salle and Villanova each hit 12 3-pointers. Booth and Paschall each had three and Deas hit five.

Up next
Villanova continues its city series games on Wednesday against Temple and Saturday against Saint Joseph's.

La Salle has a busy week with games Tuesday against Bucknell and Saturday against Penn.