Bridges helps No. 4 Villanova defeat No. 12 Gonzaga
Mikal Bridges had a career night at Madison Square Garden, the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” but his performance leading No. 4 Villanova to an 88-72 win over No. 12 Gonzaga on Tuesday did not go to his head.
“A lot of great things have happened in this building. It’s a great feeling,” said Bridges, a junior guard who produced career-high totals with 28 points and five 3-pointers. “It’s a better feeling that we got a win, so we’re just going to get ready and prepare for La Salle on Sunday.”
Bridges also had six rebounds for Villanova (9-0) in the Jimmy V Classic game. Phil Booth added 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and point guard Jalen Brunson, who averages 17.2 points and 4.3 assists, finished a foul-plagued game with 12 points and five assists.
Gonzaga (7-2) was led by Zach Norvell Jr.’s career-high 22 points. Josh Perkins added 16 points with six rebounds and four assists.
Two of the Bulldogs’ starters — guard Silas Melson and forward Johnathan Williams — fouled out with more than four minutes left and Villanova leading 77-63.
Villanova, which shot 51.7 percent from the field, was 10 for 21 from 3-point range, but the Wildcats struggled at the free-throw line by making 18 of 27.
Despite Brunson picking up his fourth foul with 9:05 remaining and Villanova leading 62-50, the Wildcats went up 70-55 with 6:46 left.
“We played well through foul trouble because we had great leadership from Jalen, Mikal and Phil,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They are great leaders, and they got our guys ready to play. It was a good win for us.”
Gonzaga, which had not trailed by more than nine points in its first eight games, fell behind by as many as 17 points in the first half before trailing 43-30 at intermission.
The Bulldogs committed 11 turnovers in the first half, equaling their field-goal total. They finished with 19 turnovers.
“The energy wasn’t there for us early for whatever reason,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “If you don’t have that energy, Villanova is the type of team that will make you pay. They controlled the tempo because of their talent, but we made our share of mistakes.”
Villanova’s guard play set the tone early with Bridges scoring 12 points and Booth 11 in the first half. They made 8 of 16 shots from the field while their teammates were 8 of 17.
After falling behind 44-30, Gonzaga rallied to cut the deficit to 44-37 on a layup by Killian Tillie with 16:36 left in regulation. Villanova answered with a 7-2 spurt to open a 51-39 lead with 15:02 remaining.
The Bulldogs again cut the lead to seven points with 10:49 left, but Villanova responded with a Bridges 3-pointer and a Brunson layup following a blocked shot by Bridges that put the Wildcats in transition.
With more than 30 NBA scouts reportedly in attendance, Bridges made a highlight-reel, one-handed slam weaving past four Gonzaga defenders with 8:14 left that gave Villanova a 66-51 lead.
“We don’t care who is in the crowd,” Bridges said. “We play for each other.”
NOTES: Gonzaga and Villanova played each other for the first time. Since the 2014-15 season, the Wildcats (109) and Bulldogs (107) lead the nation in wins. ... Villanova was 4-0 at Madison Square Garden last season and won the 2017 Big East tournament title there in March. The Wildcats are 12-1 at Madison Square Garden since 2001. ... Gonzaga is 3-5 at the arena. ... Gonzaga is 12-4 under coach Mark Few against programs currently in the Big East. The Bulldogs beat Creighton 91-74 on Friday in Spokane, Wash.