Villanova extended its Big 5 winning streak to 21 games on Sunday afternoon, beating La Salle 77-68 in its closest game so far this season.
Here are some takeaways from the Big 5 battle at the Wells Fargo Center:
Stukes steps up
Amar Stukes stood out for La Salle in Sunday’s contest, as the 6-foot-2 senior went 4-of-5 from 3-point range to finish with 16 points against the No. 4 team in the country.
After struggling to shoot early on this year, coming in at 22.2 percent from deep, seeing some efficient offensive production was nice for a change.
“It felt good to get my shot going,” Stukes said. “This game boosted me a little bit. I was happy to make shots this game, so hopefully the next game I can make a few more shots.”
“Really really pleased to see that,” La Salle head coach John Giannini said. “He did play great offensively and very aggressively and effectively in our practices, our preseason games, and our first three, four regular season games.”
La Salle needed Stukes to perform against the Wildcats, who defended first and second options B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell heavily all game. Johnson went 9-of-20 from the floor for 21 points, while Powell was 5-of-16 for 12 points.
“I knew that they would play Pookie and B.J. hard, so they would leave me open” Stukes said. “So I had to make my open shots.”
Stukes looked poised for a breakout season during La Salle’s preseason scrimmages and had a 12-point performance against Penn in the team’s second game of the year. However, he averaged just 6.5 points per game in the Explorers’ first 10 contests.
“Earlier in the year didn’t reflect how much work I’d put in in the offseason,” he said.
Wildcats put together well-rounded effort
Junior wing Mikal Bridges came into Sunday’s game averaging 19 ppg and having scored 17 or more points in seven of Villanova’s last eight contests.
Bridges struggled with his shot early on, scoring just three points in the first half on 1-of-5 shooting. He played better on the offensive end in the second half, making two critical baskets down the stretch. Bridges finished with 10 points, which was his lowest point total since the season opener against Columbia.
Luckily for the Wildcats, his teammates stepped up. Three other players reached double figures. Redshirt-junior guard Phil Booth and redshirt-sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo both scored 18 points to lead the team, while junior guard Jalen Brunson added 17 and seven assists.
Villanova has six players averaging at least nine points per game this season, and each one has the chance to lead the team in scoring on any given night. The Wildcats have had five different leading scorers in 10 games.
“That’s really one of the beauties of this team is that every one of these guys gets very comfortable being the leading scorer, but they don’t have to be,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They’ll make the right play, the right pass. That’s what La Salle kind of took away from us tonight.”
Brookins starts for Explorers
La Salle freshman Miles Brookins got his first career start on Sunday, playing the ‘4’ spot for the Explorers next to senior big man Tony Washington. Brookins, a 6-foot-10 forward, played 15 minutes and finished 1-of-2 from the field for two points, three rebounds, and a turnover.
Before the season, talked about Brookins being a game-ready player right off the bat. Brookins played in each of La Salle’s first nine games, averaging 3.3 points and 1.3 rebounds in 11 minutes per contest.
Giannini said Brookins’ start on Sunday was a result of lineup experimentation after a three-game rough patch for the Explorers.
“You could play with five guards, you could play with one big, or two bigs. The one that we hadn’t tried was two bigs and we were coming off three bad games and we wanted to give it a try,” Giannini said. “Our five-guard thing has helped us win games, so we knew that was a good lineup, and we just didn’t know if the two bigs were a good lineup because we haven’t done it in games…We’re playing the same guys, we’re just going to play some different combinations.”
Freshman guard Collin Gillespie was wearing a sling out on the court as the Wildcats warmed up for Sunday’s game.
Before the game, the team announced that the Wildcats would be without Gillespie who had suffered a left wrist injury in practice. After the game, Wright said Gillespie had injured the back of his hand when a teammate fell on it.
Wright said the injury was more than just a bruise and he estimates Gillespie will be out at least three to four weeks.
Gillespie averaged 13.2 minutes per game in the Wildcats’ first nine contests. He is averaging 4.4 points per game and has made 9-of-21 3-point attempts (42 percent).
“We missed him tonight,” Wright said. “We needed another perimeter shooter out there. We struggled without him.”
CoBL Merchandise is now for sale! Support the site, and look awesome while doing it. Click above to visit our store!