Villanova Tops Xavier, Stays in Conference Race



Villanova Tops Xavier, Stays in Conference Race

Mike Keeley

Coming into Cincinnati losers of two of their last three games, today’s top-10 matchup against Xavier was as close to a must-win as the Wildcats will face this regular season. Although the game was close and scrappy throughout, the win ended up a fairly routine one on the scoreboard, 95-79, with six Wildcats finishing in double digits.

The Wildcats started the game on the front-foot, drawing three fouls from Xavier on the first possession. However, the Musketeers got on the scoreboard first via a three from senior guard J.P. Macura, who had two deep-balls within the first three minutes. Despite Macura’s hot start, the Wildcats gained the lead by the first break of the first half at 15:07 behind threes from sophomore guard Dante DiVincenzo, who finished a rebound and an assist short of a triple double, freshman forward Omari Spellman and freshman guard Colin Gillespie.

The Wildcats then proceeded to stretch the lead to double-digits, 33-21. From that point on head coach Jay Wright’s squad held the lead for the rest of the game. Junior forward Mikal Bridges, who led the Wildcats with 25 points, was vital to building the Wildcats’ lead, hitting four of five triples in the first half for sixteen points.

“We came out trying to set the tone and that’s what I tried to do,” Bridges said.

The Wildcats as a team also rained fire from behind the arc in the first half, hitting 11 of 19 threes for a halftime lead of 51-37.

The Musketeers started the second half the stronger of the two teams, closing the lead to eleven behind a four-point play by star senior guard Trevon Bluiett, who finished with 26 points and a three from freshman forward Naji Marshall. Soon after, they then cut the deficit to single-digits, 59-50, by way of a layup by sophomore guard Quentin Goodin.

Around six minutes into the second half the Wildcats started wading into foul trouble as junior forward Eric Paschall accrued his fourth personal foul, sending him temporarily to the bench, hamstringing an already short Wildcats rotation without junior guard Phil Booth. This had a tangible effect of on the game, as the Musketeers went on a 7-0 run and cut the lead to five, 62-57. The Musketeer’s comeback was aided heavily by a severe cool off of the Wildcats from deep as they started the half 0-7 from three-point range.

After the lead was cut to three tempers flared when freshman guard Paul Scruggs fouled Spellman while grabbing a rebound, which resulted in a double technical between the two first-year players.

“[The game] was a classic Villanova street fight,” Bridges said after the game.

The break to sort out what happened in the altercation appeared to calm each squad’s temper somewhat; nevertheless the game maintained some of its combativeness as two of the best teams in the nation vied for control.

As the game entered its last eight minutes, the Wildcats’ short rotation started to show its effects as tiredness began to show. This was not helped by the fact that Bridges and Spellman soon picked up their fourth personal fouls, with Brunson not far behind with three. A well-placed timeout soon helped the Wildcats gain a second-wind as Paschall, risking his fifth personal foul, dove to the hardwood to secure a steal which lead to a transition three by Gillespie. This play obviously fired up the Wildcats and switched the momentum of the game as the lead was stretched back to double-digits. From there on out the game calmed down as the Wildcats secured the victory with a Spellman three, who then proceeded to foul out on the next possession. Three Wildcats have now fouled out in the past two games, which most likely can be attributed somewhat to the short rotation Wildcats head coach Jay Wright has been forced to play. Despite the Wildcats’ starting big man fouling out they closed out the game smoothly.

The Wildcats next play this Wednesday when they will attempt to build momentum going into the end of the season and defend their home-court at the Wells Fargo Center versus the DePaul Blue Demons.