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PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
No.1 Villanova thrashes No. 16 Radford 87-61 in NCAA opener
By DAN GELSTON
PITTSBURGH (AP) The fear naturally seeps into the thinking of players on top-seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament. Could we be the ones that finally lose to a 16 seed?
"I can't say it doesn't cross our mind at all," Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson said.
The answer from Villanova was an emphatic one: not a chance.
Brunson scored 16 points and No. 1 seed Villanova hit 14 3-pointers in an 87-61 romp over Radford in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.
The Highlanders (23-13) posed no threat at becoming the first 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1 in the tournament.
Villanova (31-4) played to near-perfection for the first 30 minutes and everyone played a role. Mikal Bridges had 13 points, Eric Paschall scored 11 and Omari Spellman had 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Wildcats play on Saturday against ninth-seeded Alabama.
Radford, out of rural southwest Virginia, must have felt like it was playing against ace pop-a-shot players. Villanova led 69-37 with 11:45 left and was shooting 75 percent (25 of 34) overall and 60 percent (12 of 20) from 3-point range.
The Wildcats turned an NCAA Tournament game into a glorified scrimmage.
Villanova coach Jay Wright was a bit wary of what could happen when he watched Penn give No. 1 seed Kansas a brief scare earlier in the day.
"We're watching Penn, because my daughter goes to Penn. My wife's rooting like crazy for Penn," he said. "I said, `You're rooting for Penn. If that happens, my boy, (KU coach) Bill Self, will be dying.' But you do, you think about it. What you have to do when you're the 1 (seed) is do everything to fight off that distraction."
Radford's Christian Bradford opened the game with a 3-pointer and the bench erupted.
The players should hope someone snapped a photo of the scoreboard as a souvenir for the one time the Highlanders led Villanova in this game.
The rest of the half was pure dominance by the Wildcats.
At one point, Brunson had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Radford? Just 10 points on 4 of 20 from the floor.
Villanova started the game shooting 13 of 16. For those who struggle with math, that's a crisp 81 percent.
Phil Booth, Bridges, Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo all hit 3s in succession to blow open the game. Even when the Wildcats put the ball on the floor, they embarrassed Radford - Collin Gillespie juked guard Donald Hicks about out of his sneakers and the Highlander fell right on his behind.
Hicks led Radford with 13 points.
"They are a No. 1 seed for a reason. But this team right here is special," Bradford said. "We're a championship team for a reason. We never thought in our mind that we couldn't come back."
Radford won a First Four game to advance to Pittsburgh. The Wildcats just won the Big East Tournament in New York. With more shooting performances like this one, they'll win much, much more in March.
Radford: The Highlanders still had a successful season. They set a school record for wins and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in program history. Radford was picked to finish seventh in the Big South preseason poll but earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Carlik Jones and Ed Polite are freshmen and should keep the good times going next season.
Villanova: Will try to avoid another first-weekend upset. The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017. They lost to NC State in the second round in 2015 in Pittsburgh in a game that spawned the birth of the sad Villanova band member nicknamed Piccolo Girl .
Paschall led the Wildcats with 29 minutes played. Wright pulled his starters and his top subs off the bench much earlier than usual to give them some needed rest. Brunson took a charge late in the game and, though Wright admired the guard's toughness, he wouldn't play much longer.
Coach Mike Jones brought his team toward the Radford cheering section and waved and pointed toward the fans in appreciation.
"They didn't get a chance to cheer victory but at least they got a chance to cheer these young men," Jones said. "They got a great group of young men. Through the tournament, people got to learn a little bit more about them, but we got to be with them every day."
Radford goes home and the Wildcats try and knock off the Crimson Tide to advance to the Sweet 16. Alabama had an 86-83 win over eighth-seeded Virginia Tech on Thursday night.
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Updated March 16, 2018