NASSAU, Bahamas — A sleep-walking first half turned into a full-out blitz in the second as Villanova overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to beat an improved Tennessee squad, 85-76, in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals.
The Wildcats were led by Jalen Brunson (25 points on 8-of-16 shooting and six assists) and emerging superstar Mikal Bridges (21 points on 7-of-10 shooting), while Tennessee’s Grant Williams put up 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Wildcats started slow for the second straight day, playing with little intensity and receiving limited contributions from anyone other than Brunson and Bridges. The ‘Big Two’ both picked up two fouls midway through the first half, which allowed the Vols to open up a double-digit lead.
But it was short-lived because Villanova went on a 9-0 run to open the second frame and eventually built their own comfortable lead that they would not relinquish for the rest of the afternoon.
The Wildcats advance to Friday’s Battle 4 Atlantis final where they will play the winner of North Carolina State and Northern Iowa. The Volunteers will compete in the third-place game against the loser of the Wolfpack and Panthers.
- When the Wildcats play like they did in the second half on Thursday, they are one of the toughest teams to defeat in the country. Their defensive intensity was off the charts good, as they created easy opportunities in transition and stunted Tennessee’s flow offensively. They also received contributions from players beyond Brunson (their team MVP and the favorite to win Big East Player of the Year) and Bridges. Donte DiVincenzo was active defensively and making shots, Eric Paschall was finishing around the rim and playing more aggressively and Omari Spellman and Phil Booth both made critical plays. Villanova survived, but this was the second straight outing that their effort was questionable to start the game.
- Bridges continued his breakout tournament in Atlantis (his defense is off the charts good and he’s showing more consistency from beyond the arc), but Brunson showed why he is so valuable on Thursday. The junior point guard controlled the pace of the second half and willed Villanova to victory. His ability to finish tough layups around the rim at just 6’3″ is impressive and his vision and IQ continues to be terrific. Brunson is essentially a coach on the floor for Jay Wright and you could make an argument that he is the most indispensable player in the nation.
- Similar to North Carolina State, Tennessee is going to be much better than their preseason expectations. The Vols were picked to finish 13th in the SEC. That is not going to come to fruition. Rick Barnes has this team competing on a high level on the defensive end of the floor and they have solid offensive players in Grant Williams, Lamonte Turner and Admiral Schofield. Expect the Vols to have a shot to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.