By Peter Gleason
Villanova waxed archrival Georgetown last night, and coach Jay Wright tied Al Severance for most wins by a Cats coach with 413.
But the 4th-ranked Wildcats’ 97-73 victory over Georgetown at the Wells was notable also because it sent a message to the Big East that in this week’s tournament in Manhattan the defending champs are ready to rumble.
Wright improved to 413-165 since he took the job in 2001 and has led the Wildcats to the 2009 Final Four and 2016 national championship. He matched Severance, who went 413-201 from 1936-1961. Wright can top Severance with a win in the Big East Tournament.
“The real thrill and the pride comes with just being the coach at Villanova,” Wright said. “That’s enough for me.”
The Wildcats head to Madison Square Garden as the No. 2 seed after their run of four straight regular-season conference titles was ended by Xavier.
The Wildcats (27-4, 14-4) beat Xavier twice this season and will surely be a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“You definitely would love to win a championship. This is the time you look at it,” Wright said. “I purposely didn’t look at that (Xavier) game today. You would definitely rather win the championship. So you take from that, what did you learn?”
They learned how to punish the Hoyas wire-to-wire.
They used the Hoyas (15-14, 5-13) as little more than a tune-up in the finale and took a 15-point lead in the first half that was never seriously challenged. Mikal Bridges scored 24 points and Jalen Brunson solidified his player of the year candidacy with 16 points and seven assists.
Brunson and Bridges, two underclassmen likely playing their final home game, received a standing ovation from the crowd of 18,523.
Yes, the Wildcats had been upset at the Wells Fargo Center this season by St. John’s, a team that was winless in the Big East, but the outcome seemed a mere formality against Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas.
The Hoyas missed all nine 3-point attempts in the first half. Jesse Govan scored 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and he went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
“They make you pay for every mistake that you make,” Ewing said.
Wright led the Wildcats, who won the 1985 national title under his mentor Rollie Massimino, to their greatest run of success in program history. They’ve won at least 32 games each of the previous three seasons and he’s led them to the NCAAs all but one year (2012) since 2005.
Wright played college basketball at Bucknell and started as an assistant at Rochester and Drexel. He spent five seasons at Villanova as Massimino’s assistant, then followed him to UNLV for another two years before taking the head coaching job at Hofstra in 1994.
Hired in 2001 to replace Steve Lappas, Wright took the Wildcats to the top of every meaningful stat — including an eight-week stint this year at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll.
“Coach wants us to be the best we can be,” Bridges said.