In his 17 seasons at Villanova, Jay Wright can’t recall coaching a more efficient offense. The way the Wildcats are clicking, it’s not hard to see why he feels that way.
Mikal Bridges scored 20 points, Phil Booth added 17 points and six assists, and No. 1 Villanova made it look easy, beating DePaul 103-85 in the Big East opener for both teams Wednesday at Wintrust Arena.
The Wildcats (13-0, 1-0) closed in on last year’s program-record 14-0 start and gave Wright his 399th victory since becoming Villanova’s coach in 2001.
Bridges and Booth each made four 3-pointers, and the Wildcats nailed 15 of 31 from long range.
Chicago-area product Jalen Brunson had 16 points and five assists. Eric Paschall scored 16, and Villanova hit the 100-point mark for the third time this season.
“I think it’s really high basketball talent,” Wright said. “We’ve got some really talented guys but they have really high basketball IQ. You might have three guys that talented but only one has basketball IQ. These (players) are all talented and a high basketball IQ. Always look to make the right play, not just scoring points.”
He said past teams had more depth and were stingier on defense, something he would like to improve.
“We still have a journey,” Wright said.
But these Wildcats also have something else going for them. They’re comfortable at the top.
“I remember the first time we were the No. 1 team in the country and it was just a different feeling for the school, for the community,” Booth said. “It was something we never really experienced before. Now we kind of focus on ourselves now. It’s about us trying to get better and stay locked in.”
Max Strus had 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists for DePaul (7-6, 0-1). Marin Maric added 17 points and 10 rebounds, but the Blue Demons dropped their 13th straight against ranked opponents. They fell to 3-21 against No. 1 teams.
“It’s phenomenal the way they make shots and a lot of it is they move the ball so well, and all five guys — they don’t have a guy that you don’t have to guard at the 3-point line,” coach Dave Leitao said. “And when you have that and fill a space and you play unselfishly, you’re going to get open shots. They do it to a high level and as a result they make a lot of shots.”
The Wildcats beat DePaul for the 15th straight time and improved to 25-8 in the all-time series. They shot 18 of 34 and nailed 8 of 18 3-point attempts on the way to a 48-33 halftime lead.
Any remaining suspense got wiped out by an 11-0 run early in the second half that made it 61-36. Booth hit a 3 and a layup during that spurt, and Jermaine Samuels finished it with two free throws. Bridges’ 3 with just over 15 minutes left made it 69-39.
About the only thing Blue Demons fans had to cheer was when Bears great Otis Wilson was introduced in the closing minutes.
There was a scary moment late in the first half when DePaul’s Peter Ryckbosch collided with Booth going for a defensive rebound and banged his head on the court. He stayed down for a couple minutes before walking to the locker room.
Villanova: Though they got outrebounded 50-32, it’s not hard to see why the Wildcats are No. 1 for the third week in a row.
DePaul: The Blue Demons couldn’t get their shots to fall and had trouble hanging onto the ball. They were 29 of 71 overall — 6 of 23 on 3’s — and tied a season high with 17 turnovers.
“Deep down it means a lot to come back here. … I enjoy being back here. I love to be here. A lot of great memories. It feels good to come home.” — Brunson on playing in Chicago.
Villanova: The Wildcats visit Butler on Saturday. The Bulldogs swept both games last season and handed Villanova its first loss after a 14-0 start.
DePaul: The schedule doesn’t get easier, with the Blue Demons visiting No. 6 Xavier on Saturday.