PITTSBURGH — Mikal Bridges hit five 3s, scored 23 points and helped No. 1 seed Villanova put the field on notice that it’s the team to beat with an 81-58 win over ninth-seeded Alabama on Saturday.
The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth — and yes, The Big Ragu — look every bit the favourite to make it two in three years.
Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.
The sport is still buzzing from top-seeded Virginia’s 20-point loss to 16th-seeded UMBC on Friday night.
Alabama (20-16) failed to make it two No. 1s KO’d in less than 24 hours.
After a tense first half in a round that has given the program fits, the Wildcats hit their first six 3s in the second and put on a thrashing up there among the most dominant under coach Jay Wright.
Bridges, who averaged 17.9 points and played his way into a likely NBA draft lottery pick, scored 1 point and missed all five shots in the first half. He found his groove once the second half tipped. Bridges scored the first 5 points of the half and then finished a thunderous alley-oop on a pass from Booth that made it 41-27 and sent the Wildcats wildly waving their arms in celebration headed into a timeout.
Bridges hit his first three 3s in succession to cap an 18-1 run and a Sweet 16 berth was in sight.
Brunson added a 3 to make it 56-31 and the rest of the half was simply a countdown to Boston. Villanova made 17 of 41 3s.
The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 seed in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017.
Villanova got a brief scare that it might add ‘18 to the list against Alabama.
The Wildcats live-and-die by the 3-pointer — they say, “shoot em’ up and sleep in the streets” — and when it’s on, look out. The Wildcats are as dangerous as any team in the nation.
When it’s off, well, that’s how they’re so upset-prone in March. They missed eight of their first 11 3s in the first half and Alabama briefly grabbed the lead.
Donte DiVincenzo steadied Villanova with three straight 3s that brought a gasp from the crowd and gave the Wildcats a 22-15 lead. He threw in a fastbreak layup off his own steal and hit his fifth 3 of the half to make it 32-27.
DiVincenzo — the redheaded guard nicknamed “The Big Ragu” — scored all 18 of his points in the half. Villanova attempted 20 3s (made seven) out of 27 shots.
His production was sorely needed with starters Brunson, the Big East player of the year, and Omari Spellman on the bench because of early foul trouble. They each played only 10 minutes while Wright rolled the dice that DiVincenzo and reserve Collin Gillespie could handle the load.
Alabama defensive ace Herbert Jones was whistled for three fouls in the half and picked up a fourth less than 2 minutes into the second half.
Alabama: Collin Sexton led Alabama with 17 points on 7 of 14 shooting and the star guard has to decide if he’ll join the ranks of the one-and-done freshman. He was the only player in double figures. Sexton did make five of Alabama’s 15 turnovers.
Villanova: Villanova will play in its sixth Sweet 16 under Wright.
The Wildcats won a regional final in Boston in 2009 to reach the Final Four.