PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jay Wright gave his NFC championship game tickets to his kids. They sent Wright and his wife photos from the Philadelphia Eagles’ romp over the Vikings and texted updates on all the fun they had at the Linc.
Who wouldn’t want to ditch the parents to root on the Birds?
Even Villanova’s coach knows the top team in the nation is no match in Philly fandom compared to the team in green.
With Philadelphia swept up in a Super Bowl frenzy, No. 1 Villanova showed again why city sports fans can also brag about having the best team in college basketball. Just across the street from where the Eagles clinched a Super Bowl berth, the Wildcats used a 22-2 run in the first half to cruise to their sixth straight win, 89-69 over Providence on Tuesday night.
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.
Philly is an Eagles city. The Wildcats, even with the 2016 national championship, are just along for the ride.
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.
Interest in college hoops doesn’t really pick up around town until the Eagles’ season is over. The Wildcats might have three more wins by the time fans start paying attention on Feb 5 — give or take a possible parade date.
Eric Paschall 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.”
Providence: The Friars’ career record vs. No. 1 teams fell to 2-15 and they dropped to 1-3 against Top 25 teams this season. Rodney Bullock was the top scorer with 16 points.
Villanova: Outside of their 22-2 run, the Wildcats didn’t really shoot that well. But the Wildcats entered tops in the Big East in scoring defense (64.8 points), and they kept Providence to 37 percent shooting from the floor. … Bridges had 11 points and nine rebounds. … Paschall and Bridges each had four steals.
HE SAID IT
Asked about the 22-2 run, Wright asked, “late?”
No, it only seemed like the Wildcats went on that kind of spurt in the second half.
“Oh, after we were down. Yeah, I didn’t know it was that much,” Wright said.
Providence plays the middle of three straight road games Jan. 31 at Seton Hall.
Villanova plays Sunday against Marquette.