Villanova defense stars again in 89-69 win over Providence

Mikal Bridges, left, Colin Gillespie, center of Villanova battle Rodney Bullock of Providence for a loose ball during the 1st half at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan 23, 2018. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The shooting wasn’t great for No. 1 Villanova at certain stages on Tuesday night, but the Wildcats’ defense throughout the game made up for it.

The Wildcats limited an opponent below 40 percent shooting from the field for the third consecutive game, holding Providence to 37.1 percent, and received fine play from their big men in an 89-69 Big East victory over the Friars at Wells Fargo Center.

Playing only its seventh home game of the season, Villanova (19-1, 6-1 Big East) got off to slow starts at the beginning of each half, making 2 of its first 12 attempts in the first half and starting 2 of 9 in the second. But the defense kept it close until the Wildcats could find their shooting eye.

Box score

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Mikal Bridges, right, and Jalen Brunson, center, of Villanova converge on Alpha Diallo of Providence during the 1st half at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan 23, 2018.

They found it. The Cats finished each half shooting 66.7 percent and 63.0 percent, and finished at 50 percent for the night. They connected on 12 three-point baskets, the ninth time in the last 10 games they’ve hit that number. Eric Paschall with 17 points led six players in double figures.

“We had three games in a row on the road and we took Sunday off so we had short prep time Monday,” coach Jay Wright said. “We didn’t have a good practice Monday and I probably said [during an early timeout] something like we saw this kind of start coming. We talked about it.”

Wright credited his first two players off the bench, guard Donte DiVincenzo and freshman forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, for providing a spark to get the Cats going.

With Providence (14-7, 5-3), the Big East’s No. 2 team in three-point field goal percentage defense, guarding the arc, the Wildcats had to work for points inside. That gave some room to their big men – the 6-foot-7 Paschall, 6-8 Omari Spellman (16 points) and the 6-8 Cosby-Roundtree (a career-high 11 points).

“It’s been hard just trying to be able to adjust to the speed of the game and the physicality,” said Cosby-Roundtree, who starred nearby at Neumann-Goretti High. “I’ve just been staying in the gym working, listening to the coaches, trying to get better every day.”

 

Camera icon Charles Fox / Staff
Jalen Brunson, bottom, of Villanova and Maliek White of Providence chase after a loose ball during the 1st half at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan 23, 2018. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The Friars led, 24-15, with 7 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half before the Wildcats went on a 22-2 run, holding the visitors to 1-of-8 shooting during that stretch. Paschall accounted for nine points during the run, and the Cats held a 39-30 lead at the break.

After Providence pulled to within three early in the second half, a four-point play by Paschall helped his team start to pull away again.

“I’m definitely getting comfortable,” said Paschall, who had five assists, four steals and three blocked shots. “Defensively, I know I wasn’t the greatest defensive player when I first came here. I just worked on every day during my redshirt year and I just got better and better.”

The Friars, who were led by Rodney Bullock with 16 points, held a 44-33 rebounding edge and scored 22 points off 21 offensive rebounds. The Wildcats, meanwhile, scored 19 points off 14 turnovers.

“Every mistake, every breakdown, really hurt us and they took total advantage of that,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. That’s why they’re No. 1 in the country and deservedly so.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Mikal Bridges, top, of Villanova collides with Maliek White of Providence as he goes up for a shot in the 2nd half at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan 23, 2018.