PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Mikal Bridges scored 16 of his game-high 23 points in the first five minutes of the second half and East Region top seed Villanova (32-4) advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament with an 81-58 victory over #9 seed Alabama (20-16) at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Bridges opened the second half with an emphatic dunk and later hit three consecutive three-pointers in under a minute as the Wildcats forged a 50-28 lead with 15:30 remaining. That margin came after a 21-1 run which began with a Donte DiVincenzo triple just seconds before the halftime intermission and was punctuated with the quick start to the decisive second half.
Villanova is headed to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in the Jay Wright era and the second time in the last three years. During Wright's 17-year tenure, the Wildcats have averaged a 14.5-point margin of victory in their six wins in the NCAA round of 32.
"It was a really good game for us," Wright said. "We played well and I give a lot of credit to Alabama. That's a young team that is going to be really good. Avery [Johnson] did a great job getting a bunch of young guys here."
Bridges and DiVincenzo each made five of Villanova's 14 three-pointers in a game that was a tale of two halves. DiVincenzo's five triples were the story of the first half, while Bridges authored the sequel with five threes of his own in the second 20 minutes. DiVincenzo scored all 18 of his points in the first half and national Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson added 12 points to round out three Wildcats in double figures.
"There is a youthful exuberance with this team that is exciting to me," Wright said. "These guys get so excited and it's really a lot of fun. This is a unique squad, it really is. That's why I think we're getting better every day, because they still have a lot of room to grow."
Omari Spellman scored five points in the game's opening three minutes to help Villanova grab an early 5-0 lead. But the Wildcats also accumulated four fouls in the first 4:25 and the Crimson Tide came right back to pull even at five.
The strength of both teams defenses was apparent early. Nine of the Wildcats first 10 attempts from the field were from beyond the 3-point arc (3-of-9) while the Crimson Tide were 5-of-10 on its early attempts from the floor. Villanova took a 13-12 lead into the U12 break. A short while later Brunson was whistled for his second foul while attempting to take a charge at the 10:44 mark of the first half.
Midway through the period DiVincenzo heated up with a trio of 3-pointers while Villanova continued its sound defensive work. DiVincenzo tallied 13 points in the first 13:10 to help the Wildcats claim a 22-15 advantage.
But Collin Sexton helped the Crimson Tide come right back. A 10-3 burst brought Alabama to within 26-25 as the first period dipped below the two minute mark.
Once again, though, it was DiVincenzo who came up with a huge play to allow the Wildcats to take a 32-27 lead into the locker room at halftime. With the first half clock winding down, the redshirt sophomore from Wilmington, Del., dropped in his fifth 3-pointer of the half. Twenty of the Wildcats 27 first half field goal attempts came from beyond the 3-point arc.
A pair of defensive stops were sandwiched around five quick points from Bridges to push the Villanova lead to 37-27 in the first two minutes of the second half. A short time later a Bridges dunk off a feed from Phil Booth stretched the margin to 41-27 as Alabama called for a timeout.
The surge continued with Bridges doing much of the heavy lifting. Over the first 10 minutes of the second half the Wildcats were 8-of-10 from the field and sank all six of their attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
The 2017-18 Villanova Men's Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.