3 takeaways from Villanova’s commanding win over Gonzaga

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: Mikal Bridges
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: Mikal Bridges /

Villanova junior Mikal Bridges puts up a career high 28 points with Villanova improving to 9-0 and beating out Gonzaga 88-72.

After back-to-back blowout victories over Pennsylvania and Saint Joseph’s, the Villanova Wildcats met their largest test of the season in the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. This was the first ever meeting between the two teams, and was Villanova’s first ranked opponent of the season.

In the opening minutes, Villanova showcased their high-pressure defense and the occasional double-team that frustrated the Gonzaga offense. The Bulldogs were unable to maintain any sense of offensive rhythm and rather sloppily committed seven turnovers in the first 10 minutes of play. Any shots for Gonzaga, open or contested, were often short of the rim.

Even with Gonzaga’s turnovers, Villanova was unable to capitalize on there misfortunes, and junior Jalen Brunson only played for eight minutes in the first half after receiving two quick fouls.

With five minutes remaining in the half, Villanova finally mounted a 10-point lead and kept Gonzaga at bay by forcing them to make tough shots. By the end of the first half, Villanova was up 43-30, but it was far from their best performance. Off of the 12 Gonzaga turnovers, Villanova only had 10 points.

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Down by 13, Gonzaga still had a chance to come back and upset the fourth ranked Villanova Wildcats. In no way did this seem like a finished game, Gonzaga was bound to move out of their shooting funk and make it a tight game.

In the second half, Gonzaga did show signs of life. They closed in on the Villanova lead, bringing it down to seven, but Bridges put a stop to that, displacing the Gonzaga offense, who continued to miss passes and couldn’t finish inside. Gonzaga’s best attempts at coming back were hurling wild contested threes; by the end of the game they were 6-for-22 from beyond the arc.

Villanova cruised past another formidable opponent in the Gonzaga Bulldogs and remain undefeated with nine wins on the season.

Here are three takeaways from Villanova’s win against the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

1. Spellman steps up against the experienced Gonzaga frontcourt.

Coming into the game, Omari Spellman was playing inconsistently. He was disappointing during the Battle 4 Atlantis, but in his last two games against Pennsylvania and St Joe’s, he was explosive. The real test would be to see how Spellman would perform on a big stage, against an elite team.

Spellman got the momentum going for Villanova in the opening minutes, getting a steal at midcourt and then hitting a jumper just outside the key. He followed that up with a deep three-point shot just a minute later, making it clear his confidence from his last two games had carried over.

He finished the game with his third career double-double, amounting 10 points and 10 rebounds, three of which were offensive rebounds. Mikal Bridges may have been the second half star, but Spellman got the momentum going early for Villanova.

2. Bridges dominates second half

With Brunson committing two quick fouls in the first half, coach Jay Wright elected to keep him on the bench and have the rest of the Villanova squad step-up in his absence. Bridges answered the call, taking over the game in the second half.

With 10 minutes left in the game, Gonzaga looked ready to breakout, as both teams were going back and forth, but Villanova was struggling to hold onto their 10-point lead. Bringing the lead down to seven, Gonzaga was gaining momentum. Fans in red shirts that had travelled 2,500 miles were getting loud, it looked like a comeback was possible – that was until Bridges took over.

With Villanova up seven, Bridges hit a three-pointer off of a Donte DiVincenzo pass. Gonzaga, down 10, and in transition searching for a much needed boost, lost the ball to Bridges, who tossed it to DiVincenzo and then to Brunson, who finished with a layup at the rim. That killed all Gonzaga momentum and loosed up the Villanova fans.

Bridges didn’t finish there, minutes later he delivered a monster dunk postering Gonzaga big-man Jacob Larsen. On the ensuing possession he aggressively blocked Josh Perkins at the rim, the dagger to finish off any hope left for Gonzaga.

Bridges finished with a career high 28 points going 8-for-14 from the field and 5-for-9 beyond the arc.

3. Villanova maintains three-point dominance against Gonzaga.

In the first half, Villanova didn’t look like the Villanova team that put up a record high 19 three-point shots against St. Joe’s. Against Gonzaga, Villanova guards instead drove continuously to the basket and attempted tough, contested shots in the paint. This was puzzling, as Gonzaga is known for their strong two-point defense and weak three-point defense.

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In the first 10 minutes, Villanova went 2-for-4 on threes. In the next 10 minutes, they went 4-for-9 from three, which is when they cemented their lead over Gonzaga. Villanova got the ball movement going more so in the second half. After drawing focus in the paint, they would dish it out to the open shooter beyond the arc. It wasn’t so much as the perimeter passing we saw that worked so effectively against St. Joe’s and Pennsylvania, but they were able to find the open shooter. Villanova finished the game 10-for-21 from beyond the arc (48 percent), which is at level with their average of 10.5 three-point shots per game through their first eight games.

Villanova gets five days of rest before playing La Salle on Dec. 10.