Villanova Wildcats

Villanova rallies past Xavier for OT win, advances to 5th straight Big East championship game

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Villanova rallies past Xavier for OT win, advances to 5th straight Big East championship game

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NEW YORK — Phil Booth scored 28 points, Jermaine Samuels hit a trio of critical 3-pointers and No. 25 Villanova rallied past Xavier 71-67 in overtime Friday night to reach its fifth consecutive Big East championship game.

The top-seeded Wildcats, trying to become the first school in the 40-year history of the Big East to win three straight tournament titles, will play second-seeded Marquette or third-seeded Seton Hall on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

In a scintillating opener to the semifinal doubleheader, Villanova (24-9) erased a seven-point deficit in the last 3 minutes of regulation. Booth and fellow senior star Eric Paschall each scored five points in the extra period as the defending national champions held off a determined Xavier squad.

Paul Scruggs scored a career-high 28 points and Zach Hankins added 18 on 8-of-10 shooting for the fourth-seeded Musketeers (18-15), who had won seven of eight. Scruggs, a sophomore guard, also had 11 rebounds and seven assists, carrying Xavier all night with an outstanding performance.

Musketeers leading scorer Naji Marshall was limited to a season-low two points on 1-of-12 shooting, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range. He fouled out early in overtime after playing nearly 40 minutes.

Xavier has reached the semifinals in all six seasons since joining the Big East, but its only appearance in the championship game was a loss to Villanova in 2015.

Samuels finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists for Villanova. Paschall scored 12, including the 3-pointer that put the Wildcats ahead to stay early in overtime.

Booth was one point shy of his career high set against Kansas on Dec. 15.

After trailing by 10 late in the first half, the Wildcats were still down seven with 3 minutes left when they finally made their move.

Samuels sank a pair of 3s, including one that caromed high off the front rim, the backboard and through to trim the deficit to 57-56 with 48.9 seconds remaining.

Hankins hit one of two free throws at the other end, and Paschall tipped in a miss by Booth to tie it at 58 with 7.6 seconds to go.

Marshall was called for a charge as he tried to win it with a floater, but he intercepted Villanova's inbounds pass at halfcourt with 1.6 seconds left and missed a desperation heave at the buzzer, sending this one to overtime.

Scruggs, who came in averaging 12.1 points per game, scored 15 in the first half. He made all five shots from the field, banking in a fortuitous 3-pointer from the left corner high off the glass, to help Xavier build a 34-28 lead at the break.

Big picture 
Xavier: Despite a late push, it appears the Musketeers will miss the NCAA Tournament after making five consecutive appearances and 12 in the past 13 years. They were a No. 1 seed last year, but got off to a slow start this season under first-year coach Travis Steele and couldn't overcome a six-game losing streak in the middle of the Big East regular season.

Villanova: Improved to 13-2 in the Big East Tournament since the 2013-14 realignment. The Wildcats are in the championship game for the 10th time, tying Connecticut for third-most behind Syracuse (15) and Georgetown (13). Syracuse (1986-90) is the only other school to make it in five straight years.

Up next 
Xavier: Will hope for postseason bid Sunday, perhaps to the NIT.

Villanova: Split two regular-season meetings with Marquette in February, with each school winning at home. Also split with Seton Hall, losing 79-75 on the road in the regular-season finale last Saturday.

Villanova's Jay Wright selling gorgeous Berwyn home for $2.5 million

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Villanova's Jay Wright selling gorgeous Berwyn home for $2.5 million

For a cool $2.5 million, you can live like a national champion.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright is putting his five-acre, 6,200-square-foot house in Berwyn for sale, according to a report from the Philadelphia Business Journal.

The house, a short drive from the school's campus, isn't technically on the market just yet. It will officially be listed for sale Feb. 24.

There's no need for Villanova fans to panic, though: Wright and his wife Patricia are simply looking to downsize now that their children have grown up, according to the Journal, rather than leave the area.

Yes, Wright's name pops up in NBA head coaching talks all the time. Yes, one day it might happen. This is not that time.

From the story:

The Wrights are downsizing and looking to move closer to Villanova, [broker Maribeth] McConnell said. The Berwyn house was their family home, and now their children are grown, she said.

Wright and his wife bought the house for $1.6 million in 2009, according to the Journal.

Spread across five acres, the house has six bedrooms, six full baths, six fireplaces, a three-car garage, a tennis court and a basketball court, and an inground pool, along with a 1,100-square-foot living space over the detached garage.

It's a pretty nice house:

Jay Wright weighs in on major Villanova storylines at season's midpoint

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Jay Wright weighs in on major Villanova storylines at season's midpoint

Villanova arrives at the unofficial midpoint of the season with a 12-3 overall record and a 3-1 mark in the Big East. The Wildcats have 16 regular-season games remaining, then it’s on to the Big East Tournament and what they hope will be their 15th trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last 16 years. 

I sat down with Villanova head coach Jay Wright for an exclusive conversation about the major storylines concerning his team as they gear up for the stretch run. 

The Big East grind

Villanova has dominated the Big East since the conference was reconfigured prior to the 2013-14 season. The Wildcats won the regular season championship five of the last six seasons and the conference tournament four of the last five years. 

They’ll have their work cut out for them continuing that run of dominance this year. The Big East is one of the toughest conferences top to bottom in the country.

With a 3-1 record in conference play, Villanova is currently looking up at both Seton Hall (4-0) and Butler (3-0) in the league standings. The road ahead is daunting — there aren’t any guaranteed wins on the Big East schedule. 

Wright’s Take: “You can look at any conference in the country and there are certain schools in that conference where you say 'Well, they're a football school.' In our conference there are no football schools, everybody is a basketball school. This means the world to everybody at every university. So whoever is No. 10 (last place in the conference) it’s still the biggest thing on their calendar. When you go there it is a tough, tough game. 

This year, it’s a whole different level because everyone has proven in the non-conference schedule just how good they are. All the teams are going to need to have short memories. We were terrible against Marquette (on January 4th) but Marquette is really good. We played in front of 18,000 crazy, screaming fans. So you can't get down on yourself from that performance, you’ve got to come back and go to Creighton three days later and play in front of another 18,000 crazy screaming fans.”

Inconsistent shooting

Villanova has been at the forefront of the three-point movement in college basketball. Like a lot of teams, the Wildcats take a ton of three-point shots. What separated them from the pack in recent years was their ability to make those shots. They rode terrific three-point shooting to national championships in 2016 and 2018.

But this season has been different. Villanova is shooting a little over 34 percent as a team from long range, ranking in the lower half of the Big East. The Wildcats are still taking a lot of threes - their 418 attempts are second most in the conference. 

Inconsistent is the best word to describe Villanova’s shooting. The Wildcats shot 51 percent from three-point range in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. But their struggles were glaring in back-to-back games against Marquette and Creighton last week. The Wildcats combined to make just 15 of 71 three-point attempts in those games, a 21.1 shooting percentage.   

Wright’s Take: “We have a saying 'Shoot em up and sleep in the streets'. That means we're going to shoot. We're going to shoot first and be aggressive and some nights we're going to be really bad and no one is going to want us in their house and they're going to make us sleep in the streets. That's kind of what we’ve been doing lately. Then we're going to develop our good decision making after that. But we're not going to try to be good decision makers first and not shoot. So that's where we are right now, it's been ugly. We’ve been sleeping in the streets a lot. You ask if I’m happy with our decision making? No. Am I happy with where we are in terms of our commitment to learning those good decisions? Yes.”

Defensive attitude

‘Attitude’ is a word used quite a bit within the Villanova program. It applies to everything the Wildcats do but holds special meaning concerning their defense. 

While the offense has been spotty, their effort on the defensive end is rounding into form. The Wildcats held their last five opponents to an average of 62 points per game. 

Wright gives his players freedom on the offensive end provided they put forth the requisite effort defensively. This year’s group has been keeping up its end of the bargain.

Wright’s Take: “Our defense is starting to get there, we still have a lot of work to do. We're not consistent, we weren't great against Marquette (a 71-60 loss), we were really good against Creighton (a 64-59 win), we were really good against Kansas (a 56-55 win). But then you could see that slip against Marquette. I really like our attitude, I really like guys like Collin (Gillespie), Saddiq (Bey), Jermaine (Samuels) and Dhamir (Cosby-Roundtree) becoming leaders. They're not there yet, but they're becoming leaders. The younger guys are starting to keep their composure on the floor in road games. Nothing is consistent yet but I like the direction we're going.”

Gillespie's heavy lifting

With the departures of fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall last year, it was evident that Collin Gillespie would shoulder a heavy burden as a junior. 

He is the unquestioned leader of a roster devoid of any scholarship seniors. Gillespie’s play on the court has been excellent - he is Villanova’s second leading scorer and leads the team in assists and steals. 

The Archbishop Wood product is drawing rave reviews from his head coach.

Wright’s Take: “Collin is in a really tough spot. He has nobody around him with the experience that he has. He’s a third year guy, he's got this team on his shoulders. He's tough as nails, Northeast Philly tough, we love him. He has that Philadelphia Catholic League intelligence. I don’t know if the other guys on the team know what that is, but we do and we take great pride in it and so does he. 

He's got to be patient with these young guys, a combination of patient and demanding. But he's still got to perform. He's doing a great job of it. We don't lighten up on him, we just put more and more on him. We're really proud of how he's handling his leadership role as a junior.”

Antoine's progress

Bryan Antoine was the centerpiece of Wright’s star-studded 2019 recruiting class. He was a McDonald’s All-American and ranked as a Top 15 prospect by all of the top recruiting services. Antoine was expected to make an immediate impact at Villanova. 

That plan took a detour last spring when Antoine underwent major surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He wasn’t cleared for basketball activities until late November and missed the first three games of the season. 

Antoine has played in nine games, averaging a little more than seven minutes of playing time in those games. His progress is a storyline worth monitoring in the second half of the season. Can he develop into an x-factor in February and March?

Wright’s Take: “Brian was one of those guys that even if everything worked out perfect for him, he's 175 pounds, he was going to have come here and get stronger. He was going to have to learn the system, even if everything worked out perfect. The hype about him is warranted because in high school his quickness and athleticism were off the charts and he played on a great team. Now he's playing where his (lack of) strength right now is a weakness for him.

And you add to that the fact that he didn't play basketball since his last high school game. He missed the whole summer, the whole preseason. So he's learning what we do, which would have been difficult even if he was here from day one.  

We are thrilled with where he is. We think he has an incredible future here. I know everybody else wants this quick fix and they want to see this excitement right away. But you have to be patient with him. Just to be fair to him, you just have to give him some time.”