No. 1 seed Villanova rolls past Alabama and into Sweet 16
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By DAN GELSTON
PITTSBURGH (AP) Jay Wright had some late-night restlessness because he could not turn off the TV as long as Virginia and UMBC were still playing. He met his Villanova team in the morning and the players at the breakfast tables were buzzing over basketball's biggest upset.
The reverberation from the 16-over-1 stunner was felt by another tourney top seed.
"There was a lot of attention with that," guard Donte DiVincenzo said. "We're a 1 seed so it was more attention for us."
In the March spotlight, Villanova showed how a No. 1 seed takes cares of business.
Mikal Bridges hit five 3s, scored 23 points and helped 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 favorite to make it two in three years.
Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.
"My good vibes are coming from how this team's playing, how unselfishly they play," Wright said.
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 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.
"I just had to play aggressive, play tougher," he said
Brunson added a 3 - one of a school-tournament record 17 3s - to make it 56-31 and the rest of the half was simply a countdown to Boston.
"There's a youthful exuberance with this team that is exciting me," Wright said.
The Wildcats' toughest nemesis was more the round than the team: Villanova 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.
"We sometimes get away with some out-of-control shots, but we know that we don't really care about offense," Bridges said.
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 fast break 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.
"We just had to withstand that first initial hit, and then once we got comfortable out there with each other, we started defending at a higher rate," DiVincenzo said. "I just think we wore down their men."
The Crimson Tide, who beat Virginia Tech for the first NCAA Tournament win in 12 years, matched their worst loss in tournament history.
"There are a lot of teams that would have loved to have been in our shoes to play an incredible game like we did in the first round and advance to the second round," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.
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.
"I'm worried about my team and celebrating with my team because we had a great season," Sexton said. "Also, I got to finish school, and I'm trying to finish with a 4.0."
Villanova: Villanova will play in its sixth Sweet 16 under Wright.
The Wildcats have won at last 32 games each of the last four seasons.
The Wildcats won a regional final in Boston in 2009 to reach the Final Four.
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Updated March 17, 2018