Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are juniors. But when they left to standing ovations from the Wells Fargo Center crowd of 18,523 in the final minute of Villanova’s 97-73 victory over Georgetown on Saturday, the feeling was that this would be the final college game they’d play on their home court.
Brunson, a national player-of-the-year candidate, and Bridges, a certain lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, have yet to make their plans known. But, for this day at least, coach Jay Wright made sure to get them out of the game separately, so they’d each receive a proper salute for their play the last three years.
“It was cool,” Wright said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be their last game, but they do have a choice, which is nice. That’s the way you’d love it to be for every guy. Both are graduating [in May]. They’ve got a degree, they’ve got pro prospects. In my mind, they should go. But they have a choice. It’s pretty cool.”
Brunson took only eight shots, but he scored 16 points and controlled the game with seven assists, as the fourth-ranked Wildcats (27-4, 14-4 Big East) tied their season high of 25 assists. Bridges continued his torrid offensive play with 24 points. In his last five games, he is averaging 22.6 points and shooting 61.3 percent from the field.
Bridges said the ovation he received when he left the game with 36 seconds left was “a nice feeling. … It was cool.”
But the former Great Valley High star went with his usual answer about the draft.
“I don’t really look at that stuff,” he said. “A lot of people ask me that, and I really don’t mind that, and I don’t care. I’m just trying to go out here and lead this team, try to be the best I can be, and lead by example.”
After suffering through their two worst shooting Big East games in the last week, the Wildcats hit 57.4 percent of their attempts against the Hoyas (15-14, 5-13), made 14 three-point shots, and placed five players in double figures. They led 44-31 at the half and kept their margin in double digits the entire second half while giving Wright his 413th career victory at Villanova, tying him with Al Severance for the all-time lead at the school.
With the Big East tournament beginning this week, they had to be happy seeing more than half their shots go through the hoop.
“It’s definitely a good feeling when you’re making shots as a team,” Brunson said. “I think it’s an even better feeling when we’re sharing the ball with each other offensively and defensively playing together, not being perfect but stepping up for each other and making the effort, too.”
Because of Xavier’s 65-62 win over DePaul earlier in the day, Villanova saw its four-year run as Big East regular-season champions end and will enter the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed. Villanova will play its first game at 7 p.m., Thursday, against the winner of an opening-round contest between DePaul and Marquette or Seton Hall.
Wright said there was a little sense of disappointment at not keeping the streak going, but that won’t be the focus this week.
“We were 27-4,” he said. “Yeah, you would definitely rather win the championship. So, then you take from that. What did we learn that maybe could have helped us win the championship? Then you move on.”