De­fend­ing NCAA cham­pion Vil­lanova holds off Saint Mary’s

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY PAT EA­TON-ROBB

HART­FORD, CONN.

Phil Booth scored 20 points and de­fend­ing NCAA Tour­na­ment cham­pion Vil­lanova held off Saint Mary’s in a hard-fought 61-57 vic­tory on Thurs­day night.

Fel­low se­nior Eric Paschell added 14 points for the sixth­seeded Wild­cats, who led for al­most 33 min­utes, but never by more than eight points.

Jor­dan Ford and Ma­lik Fitts each had 13 points for Saint Mary’s, which fin­ished the sea­son 22-12. The 11th-seeded Gaels, who pulled off an up­set win over Gon­zaga in the West Coast Con­fer­ence Tour­na­ment, had a chance down the stretch in this one.

Ford’s bas­ket in the lane af­ter a few nifty moves got the Gaels within six points at 61-55 with 34 sec­onds left. Af­ter Paschell missed a foul shot on the other end, Fitts cut the deficit to four points with a leaner in the lane.

The Gaels had two more chances in the fi­nal sec­onds af­ter a foul by Booth and some missed free throws. But Fitts hit the rim on a 3-point at­tempt and Sad­diq Bey stole the ball from Ford in the fi­nal sec­onds to seal the win.

Saint Mary’s led 30-28 at the half, but Booth scored the first five points af­ter in­ter­mis­sion, part of a 12-3 run that put the Wild­cats up 40-33.

BIG PIC­TURE

Vil­lanova: The de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons are in the tour­na­ment for the 14th time in 15 sea­sons and im­prove to 14-1 since 2016, in­clud­ing two na­tional ti­tles.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels are 4-6 in open­ing round games in the NCAA Tour­na­ment and 5-10 over­all. Saint Mary’s has ad­vanced to the Sweet 16 once in the mod­ern era when it beat the Wild­cats in 2010 to ad­vance, but went on to lose to Bay­lor 63-49. There’s a re­minder of that run in the hall­way out­side the locker room that the play­ers see as they walk out to prac­tice each day in McKeon Pavil­ion.

UP NEXT

Vil­lanova will play ei­ther No. 3 seed Pur­due or 14thseeded Old Do­min­ion in the sec­ond round Satur­day.

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