No. 1 Villanova bounces back, seniors lead way over Marquette

No. 1 Villanova bounces back, seniors lead way over Marquette


There was, Jay Wright admitted, a little bit of curiosity. How could there not be?

It had been so long, after all, since No. 1 Villanova last lost, it was only natural to wonder how the Wildcats would respond in their first game following a defeat.

But deep down, the ’Nova coach had a gut feeling his team’s leaders wouldn’t allow one loss to turn into any kind of losing streak.

And he turned out to be right as standout seniors Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart led the way in a 93-81 win over Marquette on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center — a game that was an absolute shellacking until the Golden Eagles outscored ’Nova 23-5 over the final six-plus minutes (see Instant Replay).

“After you lose a game at any time, you’re always a little curious how your team comes back,” said Wright, who guided Villanova to a program-record 20 straight wins before Wednesday’s loss at Butler. “But I wouldn’t say I was worried. With Josh and Kris, you guys are tired of hearing me say it I’m sure, but what makes us so good is our character. And these guys, they’re not saints, but they can look at a loss and say, ‘OK, we got to get a lot better. No excuses.’”

Hart, a national player of the year candidate, had a rare off game at Butler, shooting just 3 of 11 from the field as Villanova (15-1, 3-1) dropped a 66-58 decision at crazed Hinkle Fieldhouse. 

But as a senior, he’s had bad games before so knew exactly what to do to bounce back.

“I’m competitive but you can’t dwell on it,” Hart said. “We didn’t have a good feeling coming out of that game — not just because we lost but how we played. So we got back the next day and just kept working on our habits. The day after I felt good about where we were going.”

Hart was most pleased with how quickly Villanova applied those lessons, making eight of its first nine shots to take a double-digit lead early and never taking its foot off the gas.

For the game, the Wildcats shot 65.3 percent from the field and 60.9 from three-point range, both season highs. And everyone shot well. Hart was 8 for 13, finishing with 19 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Jenkins was 7 for 11 with 23 points. Mikal Bridges (4 for 4) and Darryl Reynolds (3 for 3) didn’t miss. Jalen Brunson was 5 for 7 with 16 points. Donte DiVincenzo was 2 for 4 with eight points and a career-high six assists.

What was it like being out there when everyone was so hot?

“Sometimes they all go in,” DiVincenzo said. “Sometimes none of them go in. We can’t count on that. We just have to make sure to get back on defense and get stops.”

In that department, Villanova was not at its best, allowing a season-high 81 points and a season-high 14 three-pointers.

“We still made a lot of mistakes defensively,” Wright said. “We’re a work in progress, we know that. We just got to keep getting better every night.”

There may still be room for improvement. But on a night like Saturday, it sure didn’t seem that way to a good Marquette team that was simply run out of the crowded Wells Fargo Center. 

“We knew Villanova was going to be really ready to play,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “That’s what championship-level programs do. Usually when playing a program like Villanova off a loss, you know they’re going to be really ready.”

And it was mostly because of Villanova’s battle-hardened seniors — something they’ll hope to carry over to Tuesday’s game vs. Xavier at the Pavilion.

“The one thing I’m proud of the most is how we started the game off in the sense of playing Villanova basketball and setting a tone,” Hart said. “It was one of the better jobs we’ve done all year.”

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

About midway through Monday night's Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony, the oldest inductee of this year's class paid homage to the youngest.

That's how much hoops legend George Raveling, a 1960 Villanova graduate, was blown away by Penn alum Ibrahim Jaaber's impassioned speech that ended with a powerful poem about how basketball saved him.

"It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports," Raveling said to Jaaber. "And I hope you'll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you."

That touching moment, in many ways, was a perfect encapsulation of the ties that bind the Big 5, from one generation to the next. But aside from Raveling and longtime Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon -- who, despite battling Alzheimer's, courageously gave an acceptance speech to a standing ovation at the Palestra -- this year's class was filled with contemporary guards who clashed in some great Big 5 games not too long ago.

Among them were two current NBA players in Saint Joseph's icon Jameer Nelson (class of 2004) and former 'Nova star Randy Foye (2006), as well as Temple's Lynn Greer (2002) and Jaaber (2007). La Salle women's player Carlene Hightower (2008) was the other member of the star-studded class defined by tough, gritty Philadelphia guards.

"The inductees here for the Hall of Fame have got to be maybe the greatest class we've ever put together," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who closed the night by accepting the Big 5 Coach of the Year award right after Josh Hart took home Player of the Year honors. "I grew up in Philadelphia and we always talk about what a great place the Palestra is -- and it is. But when you listen to Lynn, Randy, Coach Rav, Ibby, Jameer, you know why this is a great place. It's because of all the great man that have played here -- outstanding, humble, articulate, intelligent men that understand they're part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's what makes the Big 5. That's what makes the Palestra."

Nelson, the National Player of the Year during St. Joe’s historic 2003-04 season, certainly showed what kind of person he is, inviting all of his old Hawks teammates who were in attendance to stand behind him as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. And he even choked up at one point as he described what those teammates, coach Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's University have meant to him as he's forged a long and fruitful NBA career.

"Without them, none of this would be possible," said Nelson, the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094) and assists (713). "These guys mean the world to me."

Nelson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just wrapped up his 13th season in the NBA, calling it an "unbelievable ride" for a 5-foot-11 kid from Chester. That's two more years spent in the league than Foye, who Nelson thanked for forcing him to be better back in their college days. He also called Greer one of his "great friends" and said that Jaaber's speech "touched me in so many different ways, I wish more young kids could hear it."

"I'm very grateful to be inducted with you guys," Nelson said, although he did point out that when he was at St. Joe's, the Hawks had Villanova down 43-9 at halftime one year. 

"But those next couple years, we payed y'all back," said Foye, now with the Brooklyn Nets, during his own speech.

Those rivalries were especially meaningful to Foye, who also played against Jaaber in both high school and college.

"Being from North Jersey, you never hear about the Big 5," said Foye, a first-team All-American and Big 5 Player of the Year in 2006. "For me coming here and witnessing it up close and personal, it's just something truly amazing."

Foye added that everywhere he goes, he tries to embody what a Philly guard is -- "small but play big," as he put it -- while reminding people that he's proud to be a Villanova alum. The same can be said of Raveling, a longtime college coach and executive who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I'm so proud to say I'm a Big 5 product -- and a proud graduate of Villanova University," Raveling said. "I look back many times and realize the wisest decision I ever made in my lifetime was to enroll at Villanova University."

Just as he opened his speech, Raveling also closed it by saying he was "proud" to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame the same year as Jaaber, whose remarks touched on spirituality, family and a unique journey from Morocco to New Jersey to Penn.

Jaaber also made sure to thank the person who perhaps embodies the Big 5 more than anyone else: former La Salle player, former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy.

"I don't think I could have had a better coach for me in my situation than my Coach Dunphy," said Jaaber, the 2006-07 Big 5 Player of the Year and the all-time Ivy League leader in steals (303). "I'm almost embarrassed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before Coach Dunphy."

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood's Collin Gillespie, the Philadelphia Catholic League's MVP, has signed a national letter of intent to attend Villanova and play for Jay Wright.

Gillespie, during his senior year, averaged 24.1 points per game. The 6-foot-2 guard lead Archbishop Wood to their first Catholic League title in school history and followed that up with a PIAA State Championship game victory -- also a first for the school. Along with the league MVP, Gillespie was named Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Daily News.

"We are excited to have Collin and his family join the Nova Nation," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. "Collin comes from a great program at Archbishop Wood and has been well prepared by John Mosco. His guard skills, basketball IQ and winning instincts will be a welcome addition to our program."

Gillespie will join previously announced signees Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia) and Jermaine Samuels (Rivers School, Weston, Mass.) in Villanova's class of 2021.