NEW YORK — To be fair to the scheduling for Villanova, the Wildcats would have had at least one top-25 test had things gone according to plan during the Battle 4 Atlantis in November.
By “on-paper predictions,” ‘Nova would have played then 18th-ranked Purdue in the semifinals before meeting then second-ranked Arizona in the championship, but both lost to unranked teams in the opening round.
Villanova left Paradise Island with the trophy by beating Western Kentucky, Tennessee and Northern Iowa — three feisty opponents but ultimately ones who could not match talent with Wildcats.
The Wildcats finally got that top-25 encounter on Tuesday against 12th-ranked Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Either it wasn’t the big test that everyone anticipated or No. 4 Villanova actually is as scary-good as it has looked so far.
In the first meeting between the opposite coasts’ Roman Catholic universities, Villanova got a career-high 28 points from Mikal Bridges and a career-high-matching 20 points from Phil Booth and rolled by Gonzaga, 88-72.
— Bob Vetrone Jr. (@BoopStats) December 6, 2017
Booth missed most of last season with a knee injury. “Having to sit out last year makes me appreciate playing so much more,” he said. “I feel better and more comfortable each game, every practice.”
The Cats (9-0) simply dominated Gonzaga (7-2). Zach Norvell Jr. led the Bulldogs with 22 points.
“Gonzaga is a really good team, so to get a win like that was nice,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It comes from the leadership of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Phil Booth. We have things to work on, but this team is where I hoped it would be at this point.”
|AP Top 5||W-L||Tuesday||Next|
|1. Duke||11-0||beat St. Francis, Pa., 124-67||at Boston Coll. (Saturday)|
|2. Kansas||7-0||Did not play||vs. Washington (Weds.)|
|3. Michigan St.||8-1||beat Rutgers, 62-52||vs. S. Utah (Saturday)|
|4. Villanova||9-0||beat Gonzaga, 88-72||vs. La Salle (Sunday)|
|5. Florida||5-2||Did not play||vs. Loyola, Ill. (Weds.)|
Villanova led by 43-30 at the half, and with 11 ½ minutes remaining, Bridges went to work.
The junior curled in a layup off a sweet drive and buried a trey after a Zags basket. The 6-foot-7 Bridges then blocked a shot by 6-11 Jacob Larsen, which led to a cheetah-fast break and a driving basket from Jalen Brunson.
In a little more than a minute, the Wildcats were up 60-48. Nova had regained control of the game and never lost a double-digit advantage even after Brunson went to bench with his fourth foul with 9:05 remaining.
This was a well-planned dissection. For most of the season, Gonzaga has struggled with defending dribble penetration. After missing jumpers on their first two possessions, the Wildcats sent Brunson driving hard to the basket.
Brunson missed two layups, but the ease with which he got to the rim told the Wildcats all they needed to know.
Including a couple of charging calls and times that Villanova players were fouled, the Wildcats had 16 shots within two feet of the basket. Had they not missed six out of 11 layups, ‘Nova would have led by a lot more than 43-30 after the first 20 minutes.
— VU Hoops (@VUhoops) December 6, 2017