Villanova Wildcats

Villanova survives 1 final test ahead of Big Dance

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Villanova survives 1 final test ahead of Big Dance

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NEW YORK — Mikal Bridges scored 25 points and hit two 3-pointers in overtime to lift No. 2 Villanova to a 76-66 win over Providence in the Big East Tournament championship game Saturday night.

The Wildcats (30-4) won their second straight Big East Tournament and third in four years (losing in the 2016 final). They put the bow on a fantastic season that should have them earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova had rolled to a pair of dominant victories in the tourney and held off a pesky Providence team that played its third straight overtime game.

The fifth-seeded Friars (21-13) rallied in the second half from yet another double-digit hole and seemed set to pull off one more upset and earn the automatic NCAA berth. Providence erased a 17-point hole in the second half to beat top-seeded Xavier to reach the final. With one stunning rally on its resume, Providence nearly made it two.

Kyron Cartwright hit a jumper with 1:38 left that tied the game at 58-all and Alpha Diallo scored on a driving layup with 40 seconds left for a 60-58 lead.

Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson tied it for Villanova with two free throws.

Providence missed a last-gasp shot at the buzzer and played in its third straight overtime game.

The Friars ran out of gas in OT. Bridges, who scored 25 points, opened overtime with a 3 and hit another that helped stretch the lead for good. Brunson tied a career-high with 31 points on an emphatic dunk that sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy.

Brunson proved his worth as the best in the conference. He hit four 3s and made 12 of 23 overall from the floor, showing on the national stage why he's a candidate for national player of the year.

Providence coach Ed Cooley may have split his pants as he coached the second half with a towel tucked in his waist.

It almost worked as a rally towel.

Cartwright put Providence's comeback in overdrive when he hit a 3 that made it 51-46 and had Cooley smiling and clapping on the sideline. He loved it even more when Cartwright came right back and hit another 3 to pulled the Friars within two.

Drew Edwards flexed his biceps when he was fouled on a tying basket and had the crowd chanting "Let's Go Friars!" headed into a timeout. He sank the free to give Providence its first lead of the game, 52-51.

The Wildcats snatched the lead back and Bridges buried a 3 from the top of the arc that sent the team to their feet. Brunson was whistled next time down for an offensive foul and coach Jay Wright twirled and stretched his arms toward the sky in protest. Eric Paschall hit a floater in the lane that seemed to steady the Wildcats.

Providence just kept on coming. The Friars had defeated three top-five teams this season and was soaring following two straight overtime victories over Creighton and the Musketeers to reach the final.

Diallo led with 22 points and Cartwright scored 19 for Providence.

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.