The Villanova Wildcats started slow, but finished strong by defeating the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, 66 to 58, in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on Wednesday afternoon.
Nova led by just three points at the break before their overwhelming talent and experience took over. Jay Wright’s team used a half-court press to stall the Hilltoppers offense and were able to create turnovers that resulted in easy buckets at the other end.
Villanova will advance to the winner’s bracket and will face Tennessee, who upset Purdue, at 12:30 p.m. ET on Thursday afternoon. Western Kentucky will face No. 18 Purdue in the loser’s bracket on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. ET.
- If Mikal Bridges can develop a consistent three-point shot, the versatile wing has the potential to be a solid pro. The junior showed off his full package as he made a couple of threes, had a putback slam, used his length at the top of Villanova’s half-court press to force mistakes and recorded three impressive blocks. Bridges finished with 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting, eight rebounds, five steals and three assists.
- Bridges and Jalen Brunson were absolutely sensational on Wednesday (35 of the team’s 66 points), but Villanova is going to need more production from their other pieces. That means breakout candidate Donte DiVincenzo or big man Omari Spellman. DiVincenzo had a big first two games, but scored just three points in his last outing and didn’t really get involved against WKU until the second half. Meanwhile, Spellman looked lost at times against WKU and shot 2-of-9 from the field. In addition to those two, Phil Booth was quiet and Eric Paschall got into early foul trouble. Villanova was able to get by with limited balance vs. the Hilltoppers, but that won’t be the case against stronger opponents in the Big East.
- I was impressed with Western Kentucky, especially in the first half. Rick Stansbury will have this team in the mix at the top of the Conference USA as they have three high-level transfers in Lamonte Bearden, Darius Thompson and Dwight Coleby. Bearden didn’t play well on Wednesday (4 points on 2-of-11 shooting) and Coleby struggled with his post moves, but Thompson was efficient and under control and all three have played in big games at the college level. Imagine if this team had five-star recruit Mitchell Robinson?
- Stansbury is an excellent coach and recruiter, but it was a little confusing as to why Bearden, one of the team’s top players, was on the bench for so long in the second half. While Bearden certainly had an off day, it seems like WKU could’ve used a point guard, who once helped lead Buffalo to the NCAA Tournament, against No. 5 Villanova.