|Villanova could be in for bigger challenge against Alabama|
Villanova had little trouble dispatching No. 16 Radford in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
The second round looks to be much more difficult.
Top-seeded Villanova (31-4) crushed Radford 87-61 on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. The Wildcats will face scrappy ninth-seeded Alabama (20-15) in the second round Saturday afternoon in the first game of the day.
The Crimson Tide defeated No. 8 Virginia Tech 86-83 on Thursday.
In 2016, Villanova captured the program's second national championship. Last year, Villanova was ousted by Wisconsin in the second round despite being the top overall seed.
"I know the bitter and sweet of this tournament," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I know winning a national championship and I know getting knocked out in the second round. I know anything can happen. That's what this team's mindset is. I stick with the mindset of the group that we have."
The mindset against Radford was scintillating offense and suffocating defense.
The Wildcats shot 60 percent (31 of 52) and knocked down 14 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. It was the 20th time this season that Villanova converted at least a dozen 3-point attempts.
Even more impressive was the Wildcats' defense in holding the Highlanders to 34 percent shooting.
Defense continues to be a major teaching point for the Wildcats.
"We feel, as ourselves, that we're defending really well, and once we feel like we're playing really tough defensively, you can tell by everybody's reaction on the bench, when you're out there all fired up," said junior forward Mikal Bridges, who scored 13 points against Radford. "We love playing defense. That's what we focus on the most. And it's just a great feeling, we are defending and playing hard together."
Villanova placed six players in double figures, with National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson leading the way with 16 points. Offense wasn't a focal point. When the Wildcats are clicking, it always starts with defense.
"Honestly, I wasn't paying attention to how many 3s we were hitting," Brunson said. "To me, it didn't seem like a lot. We were just really trying to focus on defending and rebounding. Offense, it comes natural to us.
"We love sharing the ball with each other. We all are really confident with each other, making shots, sharing the ball and all that. It's something we take pride in. We just really focused on defending and rebounding because I know our offense is going to come."
Alabama won two games in the SEC Tournament just to qualify for an at-large berth to the NCAAs and it paid off with a three-point win over Virginia Tech. The Crimson Tide are in search of their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2004.
Freshman guard Collin Sexton scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half and Alabama won its first NCAA Tournament game since 2006. Freshman guard John Petty contributed six 3-pointers and 20 points.
"These coaches prepare us for stuff like this," Sexton said. "They do so many hours of film, and they tell us all of the answers to the test. We prepare for these and we just shot the ball in practice. Just to make sure we come into this game ready and that's what we did."
The daunting challenge for Alabama is to find a way to slow down Villanova.
"And Villanova, what more can we say? Outstanding team. Championship, pedigree," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. "They got problems at every position. Jay Wright's done an incredible job. He's had one of the best coaching tenures of anybody in the country.
"They know what they're doing. The great thing about Alabama, though, we feel, when we play right, we have a chance to beat anybody. We respect all of our opponents, but we'll go back, watch them on video. This will be a long night. I normally only average two hours of sleep. I'll maybe sleep 30 minutes and just have a bunch of coffee, but it's a good problem to have."