Villanova has shown its championship mettle in the first two rounds of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. The third-ranked Wildcats can complete a run to the championship in this eight-team event when they face Northern Iowa in Friday’s title game.
The Wildcats pulled away from Western Kentucky in Wednesday’s quarterfinals before overcoming a 15-point deficit late in the first half against Tennessee on Thursday. Jalen Brunson continued his strong start to the campaign with 25 points and six assists as Villanova remained unblemished on the young season. “(Teammates) give me confidence,” Brunson said to the media after the win. “Coach gives me confidence. I put the work in, so I should have confidence in myself.” Northern Iowa slipped past North Carolina State on Thursday, pulling off a second-half rally of its own in a 64-60 triumph.
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ABOUT VILLANOVA (5-0): The Wildcats on Thursday shot 33-of-37 from the foul line, which proved to be critical since their turnovers (17) and 3-point shooting (6-of-17) were a bit subpar by their standards. Brunson, who was 9-of-9 from the foul line, is averaging 21.7 points with a combined 14 assists and three turnovers over the last three outings. Villanova could use more support from its frontcourt players, Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman, who are shooting a collective 6-of-25 through the opening two rounds of the event.
ABOUT NORTHERN IOWA (5-1): The Panthers trailed by seven midway through the second half Thursday before eventually going ahead on Juwan McCloud’s bucket with 1:08 remaining and sealing the win on Isaiah Brown’s free throws with 3.1 seconds to go. Northern Iowa continued to dominate on the defensive end, holding the Wolfpack to 33.8 percent shooting (8-of-30 from the arc), and the Panthers have allowed an average of 50 points in their last five outings. Tywhon Pickford paced the offense with 18 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the semifinals, while Bennett Koch contributed 16 points and has scored in double figures in each game this year.
1. Since missing all five of his 3-point attempts in the season opener, Villanova G Mikal Bridges is 14-of-22 from 3-point range with multiple 3s in all four contests.
2. Wildcats G Donte DiVincenzo has scored a combined 27 points in the first two games in the Bahamas following a three-point effort in last Friday’s win over Lafayette.
3. McCloud has committed 10 turnovers over the last two games.
PREDICTION: Villanova 83, Northern Iowa 66