The #4 Villanova Wildcats defeated the #12 Gonzaga Bulldogs 88-72 during the first game of the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.
The night started slow for Villanova after a few missed bunnies and some struggles at the rim. Gonzaga’s stout interior defense was “as advertised” as the ‘Cats were met with white jersey, after white jersey, ever trip into the paint.
However, anchored by a frenetic defensive effort, the Wildcats were able to turn the corner on a steal and short jumper from Omari Spellman. Villanova soon found its groove from deep, going 6-12 from three in the first half, to build a 43-30 lead going into the break.
Villanova spent most of the first half without Jalen Brunson, who was saddled with two early fouls. With Brunson on the bench, Booth took over primary ball handling duties and finished the first half with 11 points, including a NSFW steal and a dunk that should eliminate any concerns about his knee.
Gonzaga struggled against Villanova’s defense in the first half, turning the ball over 12 times. Gonzaga looked discombobulated and at times frustrated with the token press. This, combined with the same bad shooting luck that bit ’Nova in the early minutes, led to Gonzaga being held scoreless for nearly five minutes in the first half. The Wildcats were able to contain Jonathan Williams, holding him to just 1-4 shooting in the first half, forcing two turnovers, and drawing two fouls.
Coming out of the break, ‘Nova was ice cold. Gonzaga, set on pushing the pace to avoid the ‘Nova press, caught the ‘Cats sleeping under the basket for a few easy buckets. Gonzaga closed the gap to 7 before Bridges hit a three to stretch the lead back to 10 at the under 16 mark.
By the middle of the second half, Villanova saw the lead shrink to 7 after a few Villanova misses on the offensive end. However, an acrobatic layup by Bridges followed by a deep three stretched the lead to 12 with 10:00 minutes left in the game. Eric Paschall struggled to get anything going, clanking two close jumpers and bricking a three. But, as ‘Nova players often do, Paschall redeemed himself on the defensive end with a block that triggered a ‘Nova runout and forced Gonzaga to call a timeout.
At slightly above the 8 minute mark, Mikal Bridges gave the Garden a show, absolutely posterizing the entirety of the Gonzaga defense before running down the Court and swatting a shot out of bounds. In the postgame press conference, Bridges claimed that both plays stemmed from his ability to remain aggressive. Bridges claimed that, during his early years at ‘Nova, older players would get on him for going up soft with the ball. Well, that didn’t happen tonight.
Villanova stretched its lead to 14 with about 3 minutes left in the game and the bench mob closed out a 88-72 victory for the Cats.
Mikal Bridges finished with 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in arguably the most dominant and impressive performance of his ever-shortening Villanova career. Phil Booth poured in his own 20 points while Brunson, dealing with foul trouble all night, still managed to tally 12 points and 3 assists.
Villanova moves to 9-0 and heads home to face LaSalle this Sunday at 1:00pm.