NEW YORK – Gonzaga’s first turnover came on its second possession.
The second came on the Zags’ third possession. Their 10th arrived 12 minutes into the first half and resulted in a steal and dunk by Villanova’s Phil Booth.
Gonzaga had the garden variety of miscues: sloppy entry pass, travel, charging foul, ill-advised drive into traffic or an overaggressive post-up.
Bad timing, considering the Zags were up against one of the best defenses in college basketball.
That was the story of the first half. Villanova junior forward Mikal Bridges was the difference in the second.
Bridges struck for a career-high 28 points, 16 in the final 20 minutes as No. 4 Villanova handled Gonzaga 88-72 on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
The 12th-ranked Zags (7-2) finished with 19 turnovers, leading to 19 Villanova points.
Some of GU’s mistakes were unforced, but many were the result of Villanova’s speed, length and general soundness.
“They literally came in every which way, shape and form,” Zags coach Mark Few said.
Gonzaga trailed by 13 at half but put some stress on the Wildcats, closing within single digits on several occasions in the second half. The Zags were within seven twice, but both times the athletic 6-foot-7 Bridges got loose.
Bridges penetrated for a bucket, followed it with a 3-pointer and added a blocked shot for good measure. In the span of roughly 90 seconds, Villanova’s lead grew to 60-48.
His drive and flush over two Zags with just more than 8 minutes remaining put a bow on Villanova’s victory.
“He’s playing with a lot more freedom and aggressiveness,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said of Bridges. “Last year, he passed up a lot of those shots to get it to Josh (Hart) and Kris (Jenkins). He just knows it’s his turn.”
The same things that bugged Gonzaga at the offensive end – Villanova’s speed, smarts and versatility – had the same impact at the other end of the court. It wasn’t all Bridges. Booth added 20 points and backcourt mate Jalen Brunson overcame a slow start to add 12 points and five assists. Omari Spellman chipped in 10 points and 10 boards.
The Zags couldn’t keep the Wildcats (9-0) out of the lane on dribble penetration, so they switched to a zone defense in the first half. It didn’t slow Villanova, which found the high post or created off the bounce and extended its lead even with Brunson, the Big East preseason player of the year, on the bench in foul trouble.
“Their plan is fairly simple, but they can just hurt you,” Few said. “If you want to double some of their players, they cut better probably than any team I’ve seen. And the way they’re shooting it, they had 10 (3-pointers) and we wanted to hold them under seven.
“Then you throw in those guards. They’ll take seven, eight, nine dribbles, pivot and fake, pivot and fake again. That’s a hard guard. It’s a very smart, poised and mature attack.”
The Zags zipped in front 7-2 on a Zach Norvell Jr. 3-pointer, but they couldn’t stem the flood of turnovers. Villanova swiped the ball from Norvell near midcourt and Spellman dropped a pull-up jumper.
“Just losing focus,” said Norvell, who led Gonzaga with 22 points. “We were breaking it (Villanova’s pressure), but after we break it the job isn’t done. We still have to get a shot on goal.”
Villanova’s lead reached 10 on Booth’s steal and dunk. Donte DiVincenzo’s 3-pointer pushed the Wildcats’ lead to 41-24.
Gonzaga senior Johnathan Williams went to the bench early in the second half with four fouls. He only played four second-half minutes before fouling out, but the Zags kept it close with reserve Jacob Larsen providing solid minutes and Josh Perkins contributing 16 points to offset a tough perimeter shooting night.
It wasn’t enough against a savvy, experienced opponent.
“They’re very connected and playing at a really high level. Very impressive to see firsthand,” Few said. “They’re not overwhelming with physicality or crazy athleticism but great basketball, basketball players that understand how to play the right way.”
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