The Villanova Wildcats hit the hardwood with a lot more energy than they did in yesterday’s tournament opener, and the results spoke for themselves. The ‘Cats held a 10-point lead at half-time, and continued to keep a few steps ahead of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the last 20 minutes to seal the win, 96-77.
The ‘Cats had new career highs from Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges. Hart started the game off with the hot hand and finished the contest with 30 points. Bridges, meanwhile, had a scoring burst to start the second half that helped him to 19 points of his own. Five ‘Cats recorded double-digit scores, with Darryl Reynolds the only starter to be short of that mark.
Hart’s previous career high was 27 points, set last season against Akron. He was hot from anywhere on the floor, going 11-for-14 overall and 6-of-8 from deep. The team shot 57.6% overall and 51.6% from beyond the arc in the game. Half of their made field goals were assisted — including six assists from sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson.
Phil Booth sat out the game with what was described as a knee tendonitis, allowing Bridges to get the start for ‘Nova.
Their hard play on defense helped to hold back a Wake Forest offense that hung a triple-digit score against UTEP yesterday to reach today’s match-up. The Deacs were rather proficient scoring, despite not reaching the same level as yesterday — connecting on around 50% from the field and finishing with all five starters and one reserve with double-digit points.
The ‘Cats beat the Deacs 34-to-24 on the glass, and 9-to-6 on the offensive glass in an effort that highlighted hustle plays and defensive effort. In one instance, late in the game with the team ahead on the scoreboard, Brunson impressed the crowd by elevating for a dunk, then getting right back on defense to dive to the floor for a 50-50 ball.
It wasn’t just brute effort, however, the defensive switches looked great and defenders boxed-out and hustled for rebounds. Bridges had 7 boards, while Reynolds and Kris Jenkins both grabbed six. Hart added 3 steals and four rebounds to a box score that he may want to frame.
While that defense put a lot of pressure on Wake, the Villanova offense was also smoothly executed. They crisply executed their ball-screens and were finding the open shooter on the pass. That all helped Hart to find his shot over and over again, and created a great mismatch for Jenkins who scored 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting (3-6 from deep).
Villanova returns to the court on Sunday at 9:30 PM Eastern, where they will contest the Charleston Classic title game against the winner of tonight’s match up between UCF and hosts, College of Charleston.
Shot Chart courtesy of Will Schreefer