Instant Replay: Creighton 96, No. 4 Villanova 68

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Instant Replay: Creighton 96, No. 4 Villanova 68

BOX SCORE

Jay Wright said on Saturday that he had “no clue yet” as to how he would have his Villanova team defend a potent Creighton squad when the two programs went head to head.

Whatever the coach came up with didn’t work. Not even close.

Newly-minted No. 4 Villanova succumbed to a barrage of three-pointers during an ugly 96-68 loss to Creighton at the Wells Fargo Center Monday night.

The Wildcats allowed the Bluejays to make 21 of 35 attempts from three-point range during the defeat. Creighton’s Ethan Wragge was in a rhythm like no other, scoring a career-high 27 points on 9 for 14 shooting -- all three-pointers. The nine threes from Wragge tied Creighton's single-game mark held by Kyle Korver in 2003.

The loss snapped Villanova’s (16-2, 5-1 Big East) five-game winning streak and was Wright's worst in his 13 seasons at the helm, while Creighton (16-3, 6-1) bounced back from an upset loss to Providence on Saturday.

Turning point
We can actually go back to Saturday for this one.

Wragge made just 2 of 8 attempts -- all three-pointers -- for eight points during Creighton’s 81-68 loss to Providence that knocked the Bluejays out of the AP Top 25 rankings.

You can’t expect a player that shoots 47.9 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from long range to have two off games in a row.

Villanova allowed Wragge to walk right into his comfort zone from the opening tip. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward nailed two threes in the game’s first two minutes and he was just getting warmed up.

He drilled another deep three at the 17:06 mark to put the Bluejays up 15-5 and force an angry Jay Wright to call a timeout. That didn’t stop the onslaught, however, as Wragge proceeded to hit two more from downtown immediately following that Wildcats timeout. He added two more bombs after the official TV timeout to give Creighton a 27-8 edge just six minutes into the game.

In all, Wragge hit 8 of 10 three-pointers in the first half for 24 points, surpassing his career high before the break. His teammates provided plenty of help, making six of their own 12 attempts from distance to balloon their lead to as much as 28 points.

The Wildcats finally settled in and were able to chip away until the deficit was 13 at intermission, but the damage had already been done.

Big men on campus
In addition to Wragge, who also added three rebounds and three assists, All-American Doug McDermott did a little bit of everything for Creighton. The senior forward had 23 points, five rebounds and three assists on the night.

Guard Jahenns Manigat scored 19 points on 6 of 7 shooting for Creighton.

James Bell led Villanova with 19 points. JayVaughn Pinkston added 11 and five rebounds, while Darrun Hilliard had 10.

Inside the box score
• Villanova lost at the Wells Fargo Center after going a perfect 3-0 -- all against ranked teams -- in the building last season.

• The victory marked Creighton's first true road win against a ranked team since 1978 and its first win against a top-five team since 1970.

• The Wildcats shot 39.7 percent from the floor and 34.5 from three-point range in the game.

• Creighton had 25 assists on 33 made shots. The Bluejays' assist total was two more than the Wildcats' made field goals (23).

• Despite playing a perimeter-oriented game, Creighton still walked away with a 34-32 advantage in the rebounding battle.

• Villanova had two fast-break points in the game compared to 15 for Creighton.

Series
Monday’s game marked just the fourth time ever that these two programs have met and the first since 1952.

Villanova and Creighton played once each year from 1950-52, with the Wildcats winning all three.

Scout’s honor
Seven NBA scouts were in attendance for Monday night’s matchup. The Sixers, Spurs, Clippers, Wizards, Nets, Cavs and Jazz all had representatives in attendance.

While they were undoubtedly in the building to see how McDermott’s game would translate to the NBA level and perhaps some of Villanova’s young talent, the scouts certainly left with Wragge’s name added to their notes.

What’s next?
Villanova will try to rebound when it travels to Marquette for a 2 p.m. matchup on Saturday.

Creighton also gets back on the court Saturday with an 8 p.m. tilt at home against Georgetown.

Jalen Brunson 'plays like a Philly guard' in helping No. 1 Villanova hold off La Salle

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Jalen Brunson 'plays like a Philly guard' in helping No. 1 Villanova hold off La Salle

BOX SCORE

Normally before his team’s first game at the Palestra in a certain year, Jay Wright takes his players on a tour of the storied building.

The goal: To remind them of the history, the importance and the tradition. And also what happens here.

After Tuesday’s game against La Salle, Wright regretted not playing tour guide last week when the Wildcats played Penn.

Turns out he picked the right time to remind sophomore Jalen Brunson what the Palestra is all about and how things never typically go as planned once the ball is in the air.

Brunson, whose dad endured plenty of Big 5 battles while playing at Temple, poured in a career-high 26 points to help No. 1 Villanova fend off a feisty La Salle team, 89-79 (see Instant Replay).

With Kris Jenkins’ shot not falling, and with the Explorers making everything difficult for the Wildcats, Wright, on multiple occasions, had to go to his “ace in the hole.”

“You know, at any point when you need to get a bucket, he can go get one for you,” Wright said. “That’s kind of what we did tonight.”

Brunson scored 14 of his 26 in the second half. He shot 10 for 17 from the floor on the night, including 2 of 3 from deep, and made all four of his attempts from the free throw line.

“Coach always says [to] be aggressive,” Brunson said. “Be ready to catch and shoot, ready to make plays. I was just feeling it tonight. It’s a credit to my teammates for finding me.”

He found them, too.

With La Salle hanging close all game, Villanova used a crucial 9-0 run to finally get some separation. In that stretch, Brunson hit Donte DiVincenzo with a backdoor, alley-oop pass that gave Villanova a 48-42 lead.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Eric Paschall and Jenkins put Villanova ahead by 11, 53-42, with 12:03 to go.

The run came during a five-minute, 23-second La Salle FG drought.

But La Salle, after a 57.1 percent shooting performance had the Explorers down just four at the half, roared back late behind a career-high 27 points from Pookie Powell.

Powell’s layup with 1:55 left got La Salle within five, 75-70. But Brunson responded with a tough finish through traffic.

A three-pointer from La Salle’s Jordan Price made it 77-73 with 1:19 left.

But Villanova was able to connect on two lengthy inbounds passes, one to Mikal Bridges, who scored 16 points on the night, and one to Josh Hart (21 points), to lead to easy points down the other end. And Brunson hit free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.

“A couple breakdowns, a couple things didn’t bounce our way, some missed free throws, and of course [Villanova’s] effort is extraordinary,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “We worked hard but they got a few more loose balls, a few more offensive rebounds and they just deserve credit for being relentless, the way they are all the time.”

The thought, however unlikely it seemed before tip-off, probably lingered in the minds of most inside the Palestra longer than they expected it to.

For long stretches of the game, La Salle had Villanova out of sorts. Wright credited that to La Salle’s talent. Some of it could also just be chalked up to another city series game at the Palestra — of which Villanova has now rattled off 17 consecutive wins.

“We’re not surprised at all,” Wright said. “I think we’re a little surprised we couldn’t guard them better. But we were not surprised at their effort, their talent. … They are as talented one-on-one offensively as we are. We have just played together longer.

“Some nights the other team has a little bit better plan. I think John had a little bit better plan for us than I did for them. Sometimes things just don’t go your way and you have to find a way to grind it out.

“Our veterans here, and I count Jalen as one because he’s an old soul, did a great job down the stretch.”

An old soul who perhaps still benefited from Wright’s tour.

“He plays like a Philly guard,” Wright said. “His dad, even though his dad’s from upstate New York, his dad’s a Philly guy. He knew everything. He’d seen it before.

“That’s valuable for us. It was valuable for us last year in our run, having a freshman that really didn’t think the game like a freshman or play like a freshman.”

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 89, La Salle 79

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Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 89, La Salle 79

BOX SCORE

The thought, however unlikely it seemed before tip-off, probably lingered in the minds of most in the Palestra Tuesday night.

Newly-crowned No. 1 Villanova looked beatable in a “road” game against a cross-city opponent, La Salle.

A streak of 16 consecutive city series wins was on the line. And surely that No. 1 ranking would disappear next week with a loss.

But like many of the 16 previous games, Villanova finally wore down its opponent. At least enough to hold on for a win.

Behind a career-high 26 points from Jalen Brunson, 21 from Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges’ 16, Villanova earned an 89-79 win over an Explorers team that quite simply refused to go away.

La Salle, which trailed just 40-36 at halftime, got a career-high 27 from Pookie Powell, who made three three-pointers to keep the Explorers close.

Powell’s layup with 1:55 left got La Salle within five, 75-70. But Brunson responded with a tough finish through traffic.

A three-pointer from La Salle’s Jordan Price made it 77-73 with 1:19 left.

But Villanova was able to connect on two lengthy inbounds passes, one to Bridges and one to Hart, to lead to easy points down the other end to help preserve a win.

Turning point
In a game that needed one to determine a winner, Villanova used a 9-0 run (which started with the Wildcats up, 44-42) in less than 2½ minutes early in the second half to finally create some separation. Separation the Wildcats would need down the stretch.

In the middle of the run, Brunson hit Donte DiVincenzo with a backdoor, alley-oop pass that gave Villanova a 48-42 lead.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Eric Paschall and Kris Jenkins put Villanova ahead by 11, 53-42, with 12:03 to go and the Wildcats never looked back. Their lead never shrunk below four the rest of the night.

The run came during a five-minute, 23-second La Salle FG drought.

Inside the box score
• La Salle shot 57.1 percent (16 for 28) from the floor in the first half to keep the game close in what was one of Villanova’s worst defensive halfs of the young season.

• Villanova entered Tuesday’s game with 117 assists on 222 makes (53 percent) this year. In Tuesday’s first half, Villanova got just five assists on 16 makes from the floor. The Wildcats got their offensive rhythm going in the second half, recording 10 assists on 18 made baskets.

• Price (18.5 ppg entering Tuesday) was held to single digits (nine points) for just the fourth time over the last two seasons.

• Paschall tied a season high with seven rebounds. 

• Villanova won the turnover battle, 11-6, and shot 13 for 16 from the free throw line.

History
In the 66th meeting between the Philly schools, Villanova improved its record to 39-27 all-time against La Salle. 

Jay Wright now owns a 14-2 record against the Explorers.

In Palestra history: Villanova became the first No. 1 team to play at the Palestra since North Carolina defeated Penn, 106-71, Dec. 4, 2007.

Up next
Villanova has off until Saturday, when the Wildcats travel to Newark, New Jersey, to take on No. 23 Notre Dame at noon.

The Explorers play Saturday (2 p.m.) in Miami against Georgetown at the Hoophall Miami Invitational.