By Harry Allison
It takes the No. 1 team in the country to break through the Eagles fever that has swept this region.
Villanova’ Wildcats ran off a 22-2 blitz in the first half to cruise to their sixth straight win, 89-69 over Providence.
The Wildcats (19-1, 6-1 Big East) are the only program in the AP Top 25 that plays in the shadow of four major pro teams that share a sports complex.
Villanova was forced to play this season at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the NBA’s 76ers, because of renovations at its on-campus arena. The Wildcats improved to 7-0 in their temporary digs, even though the 20,000-seat arena drew only an announced 8,595 fans.
”It’s starting to feel like this is our home court,” Wright said.
Eric Paschall (above) led six Wildcats in double figures with 17 points, Omari Spellman had 16 and Jalen Brunson scored 15.
What the fans might have missed is Brunson, a first-team preseason All-American, playing his way into national player-of-the-year contention. The recent funk from Oklahoma’s Trae Young could open the door for the Nova guard to take home some postseason hardware. He entered the game tops on Villanova in scoring, third in the Big East in assists and third in the conference in 3-point accuracy.
The Wildcats had off on Sunday and a poor practice a day before the Big East matchup, and they started in a 24-15 hole.
”They try to use their speed and quickness and they definitely took advantage of that today,” Paschall said.
The Wildcats rallied to lead 39-30 at halftime. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges hit consecutive 3-pointers to spark the decisive run. Spellman, the preseason Big East freshman of the year, had a three-point play when he tossed the ball up in the lane and it rolled around the rim before falling through the net.
The Friars (14-7, 5-3) missed eight straight field goals midway through the second half, and Brunson and Paschal hit 3s that stretched the lead and sent the Wildcats on their way to their sixth straight win against Providence.
”I like the way we played for about 22 minutes,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. ”Every mistake, they took advantage of. I was proud of our guys in some sequences, but the breakdowns really hurt us and they took total advantage of that.”