NEW YORK, N.Y. – A brilliant evening from redshirt junior Mikal Bridges helped the No. 4 Villanova Wildcats defeat No. 12 Gonzaga in impressive fashion, 88-72 on Tuesday night at the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats are now 9-0 while the Bulldogs dropped to 7-2 overall.
Bridges connected on 8-of-14 attempts from the field to finish with a career high 28 points to go with six rebounds. His classmate, Phil Booth, tied his career high – set in the 2016 NCAA national championship game victory over North Carolina, with 20 points.
The Wildcats enjoyed a double digit lead for most of the second half.
“We beat a really good team,” stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “We played well and we played through foul trouble. It came from the leadership of Jalen Brunson, Phil and Mikal. They got our guys ready to play.
“This was a good game for us.”
Gonzaga leaped out to a 7-2 lead in the contest’s first three minutes before five straight points from redshirt freshman Omari Spellman brought the Wildcats back to even at nine at the first official timeout. With Bridges leading the way VU created a 16-11 lead before the Zags pulled even at 17.
An 11-0 spurt midway through the period sparked by the work of Bridges helped the Wildcats craft a 28-17 advantage with 6:50 to play. Villanova’s ability to disrupt Gonzaga defensively – it forced 11 turnovers in the contest’s first 13 minutes – was a pivotal factor in building the lead.
A Silas Melson 3-pointer from the corner with 5:40 to go in the period halted the surge.
With Spellman collecting nine rebounds, VU took a 43-30 into its locker room at halftime. The lead was accomplished with both Donte DiVincenzo (three fouls) and Jalen Brunson (two) spending much of the period on the sidelines. Booth, Bridges and Spellman helped carry the load, combining for 30 of the ‘Cats points over the first 20 minutes.
A 7-1 spurt to begin the second half brought the Bulldogs to within 44-37 with 16:25 to play in the second half before a corner 3-pointer from Bridges pushed the advantage back to 47-37. A Jacob Larsen low post score narrowed the margin to 53-46 as the 11 minute mark of the second half approached.
With the Wildcats struggling to locate offense, Bridges was continually there when Villanova needed him. He sank a corner 3-pointer and then came up with a blocked shot at the defensive end of the court that ignited a fast break finished by Brunson to give the Wildcats a 60-48 lead with 10:05 on the clock.
The individual highlight moment of the night belonged to Bridges too. He dribbled into the lane and sent down a powerful slam to push the Villanova advantage to 66-51 with just over eight minutes remaining.
“It was just me being aggressive,” stated Bridges. “I saw a lane and tried to go up and be strong. Ever since my freshman year I would go up and lay the ball up a lot. The coaches and the seniors used to get on me for that. I’m just trying to mature as a player.
“Defense is the main thing. I was just trying to make a play (on that sequence).”
The Bulldogs kept working in the final minutes but the Wildcats, typically in the person of Bridges and Booth, usually had a response. A 3-pointer by Booth with just over three minutes to play gave VU an 81-67 advantage, effectively sealing the triumph.
“Gonzaga is a really good team,” stated Booth. “I saw them last year, how they went to the national championship game and how many guys they had returning. This was a great win for us. They have older players and are a really experienced team.”
Though the Wildcats have now started 9-0 for the second straight season, Bridges says it is incumbent upon the team to remain in the moment,
“We’ve got to keep getting better,” Bridges stated. “If we relax just because we’re playing well now, teams will get us. We have to go hard at practice every day and get better every day.”
The 2017-18 Villanova Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.