Villanova Wildcats

No. 4 Villanova dismantles No. 12 Gonzaga in Jimmy V Classic

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No. 4 Villanova dismantles No. 12 Gonzaga in Jimmy V Classic

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NEW YORK — Mikal Bridges hit Gonzaga with a dunk that rocked the Garden and followed with a block that sapped the Zags' spirit.

Against an NCAA title game finalist and in prime time on basketball's biggest stage, Bridges had his coming out performance as one of the top players in the nation.

Just check the replay of that sequence for confirmation.

"I just saw a lane and tried to go up and be strong," Bridges said.

Bridges hit five 3s and scored a career-high 28 points to lead No. 4 Villanova to an 88-72 victory over No. 12 Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (9-0) flexed their muscle on familiar turf and proved again they are again national championship contenders in their first real test of the season.

Bridges, a 6-foot-7 junior guard, put on a show in front of scores of NBA scouts and flashed a lottery-pick worthy game. His defining moment came in the second half: Bridges slashed the lane and unleashed a monster right-handed dunk over 6-11 center Jacob Larsen. Gonzaga's Josh Perkins tried the same move on the next set only to have Bridges swat the ball out of bounds with a block that had the Nova fans that filled MSG roaring on each replay.

"Ever since my freshman year, I've laid the ball up a lot and coaches, the seniors, they used to get on me for that," Bridges said.

Not anymore.

Bridges made 8 of 14 shots in the first meeting between two programs that have ranked among the best over the last 15 years. Villanova won the 2016 national championship and the Zags lost the 2017 title game to North Carolina.

Bridges was such a dominant presence, he even startled one Zag into a turnover when he heard footsteps on a fastbreak.

"He probably could have done more of this last year," coach Jay Wright said. "He's the leader. He's the captain. So he's playing with a lot more freedom. Aggressiveness, as he says."

Zach Norvell Jr. led Gonzaga (7-2) with 22 points and Perkins had 16.

"They put it on us pretty good," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Bridges cut off the Bulldogs each time they made a small run. The Zags inched to seven early in the second half and Bridges connected on a 3. He came up with a tough bucket inside and drew a foul on one possession and followed with a 3 on the next to make it a 10-game game.

Bridges dunk-and-block in front of the scouts destroyed whatever mojo Gonzaga had left and the Wildcats won for an NCAA-best 109th time since 2014.

"We don't care who's out in the crowd. We play for each other," Bridges said

The Wildcats played every bit like a national championship favorite in a first half where they picked apart the Zags. Bridges had 12 points, Phil Booth had 11 of his 20 points and the Wildcats hit six 3s to build a 43-30 lead.

Villanova is more than a few NBA-ready scorers carrying the offense. Eric Paschall missed both of his shots in the half but it was his kickout passes on consecutive possessions that led to 3s from Booth and Bridges. Donte DiVincenzo made it three straight 3s that brought the Nova fans to their feet.

Booth, who took a medical redshirt last season, proved his twice surgically repaired left knee was fine on a high-flying dunk and even the players got loud at the Garden: Villanova's deep reserves bolted from the bench and bellowed "Charge! Charge! Charge!" late in the half and sure enough the foul was called on Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura.

The Wildcats made the short 105-mile trip compared to nearly 2,600 miles for the Zags and had the decided fan support at MSG. The Wildcats, a regular at the Garden in the Big East Tournament, could hoist that trophy in front of the faithful again in March in New York.

Big picture
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs lost their second game after losing just one in the regular season on the way to the title game. The Bulldogs were picked this year to finish second in the WCC, behind archrival Saint Mary's.

Villanova: The Wildcats followed a school-record 19 3s in their last game against Saint Joseph's with 10 against Gonzaga. What's it going to take to lose? "Us relaxing," Bridges said.

D-Zag-ster
The Wildcats shot 52 percent from the field and became the first team in 65 games to shoot better than 50 percent against the Zags. Gonzaga starters Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson fouled out.

Up next
Gonzaga: The Zags play against Pac 12 Washington on Sunday.

Villanova: The Wildcats look to extend their dominance in Philadelphia's city series Sunday against La Salle.

As key players head to NBA, where does Villanova go from here?

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As key players head to NBA, where does Villanova go from here?

The decisions made by Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to remain in the NBA draft should ultimately be a good thing for the Villanova basketball program. DiVincenzo and Spellman join college teammates Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson in the 2018 draft class and there's a chance all four of them are selected in the first round. 

Having four players drafted in the first round will do wonders for Villanova on the recruiting trail. The caliber of high school players that Jay Wright recruits want to play in the NBA. Wright could point to the four first-rounders the program produced this year in addition to former players like Kyle Lowry, Dante Cunningham, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono currently playing in the NBA.

While Wright's program will reap the benefits of producing NBA talent in the long run, there is no disputing the fact that DiVincenzo and Spellman deciding to leave is a significant blow to the program in the immediate future. DiVincenzo and Spellman would have been Villanova's two best players next season. Two guys capable of leading the Wildcats to a third national championship in four years. 

But their departures bring about a new reality for Wright — his four best players from last year's team are gone and he has only two proven players returning to lead his team into the 2018-19 season. 

The proven returners
Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall combined to start 69 games last season and each played a critical role in winning the program's third national title. Next year will be Booth's fifth in the Villanova program and Paschall's fourth. These are proven performers and, more importantly, reliable leaders for what will largely be an inexperienced team. Booth will be one of the best guards in the Big East next season. Paschall is one of the most explosive athletes in the conference and his improved perimeter shooting last season was a key factor in Villanova winning the national championship.

Other key returners
This group will be the most important variable in Villanova's success next season. Collin Gillespie heads into his sophomore season poised for a big year. He made significant contributions off the bench as a freshman, overcoming an early season wrist injury that sidelined him for the better part of six weeks. A healthy and confident Gillespie will be a huge part of the Villanova backcourt. 

Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree rounded out Villanova's seven-man rotation last season. Like Gillespie, he enters his sophomore season with a wealth of big-game experience. Cosby-Roundtree proved his worth last season as a high-motor big man specializing in defensive energy, rebounding and running the floor. He'll now be asked to contribute on a more consistent level offensively.

Jermaine Samuels will play a critical role. Another rising sophomore, Samuels was making strides as a freshman before a broken hand sidelined him for an extended stretch during the beginning of conference play. He was never able to re-establish himself in the rotation once he returned. Samuels has all the physical tools to be a high-level Big East wing player in the mold of Hart and DiVincenzo. Keep an eye on Samuels.

Then there's big man Dylan Painter, who redshirted last season. Painter showed promise towards the end of his freshman season in 2017. The hope is that a year spent working on his strength and athleticism will pay dividends. The redshirt formula has been a big part of Villanova's success. Painter could become the latest example of that. 

The new arrivals
Wright welcomes in his highest-rated recruiting class in a decade. The headliner is five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who originally committed to Arizona but then de-committed in the midst of the FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. Wright is confident that Quinerly will be cleared of any wrongdoing and will be eligible next season. Quinerly should make an instant impact, the next in a long line of terrific Villanova lead guards.

Cole Swider should also see significant playing time as a freshman. Swider is listed as a forward but is more than capable of doing damage from the perimeter thanks to his elite-level shooting ability. Swider is a natural scorer and should be a perfect fit for Villanova's three-point heavy offense. Brandon Slater is the third member of Villanova's freshman class, an athletic wing who will have ample opportunity to play his way into the rotation.

Villanova will also bring in at least one graduate transfer for next season. Joe Cremo has already committed to Villanova after starring at Albany the last two seasons. He averaged just under 18 points last year and shot nearly 46 percent from three-point range. The question is whether Cremo's production will carry over to the Big East level. Wright is hopeful that it will. Look for Cremo to be a key addition to the Villanova backcourt. 

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

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Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

Another Villanova star is moving on ... maybe.

Donte DiVincenzo has declared for the NBA draft but will not hire an agent, meaning he can test the draft waters but will maintain his college eligibility should he chose to return to school. 

The redshirt sophomore was voted the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a career-high 31 points in Villanova' national title win over Michigan. 

“Donte has consistently improved in his time at Villanova through dedication and a commitment to our core values,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “His play this season has created a unique opportunity for him to receive feedback from NBA teams in the draft process. We support Donte fully and our staff will work together with him and his family to help him assess the next step in his basketball career.”

DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. His numbers jumped to 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists 54.7 percent shooting during the NCAA Tournament.

He must decide by May 30 if he will enter the draft or return to school.

DiVincenzo is the latest Wildcat to declare for the draft, as the mass exodus of stars continues for Villanova.

Mikael Bridges and Jalen Brunson have declared and hired agents, marking the end of their collegiate careers, while redshirt freshman Omari Spellman will also test the waters.

On the bright side, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall announced they will both return for next season.