Almost three years into his transformation from intriguing prospect to polished player, Villanova’s Mikal Bridges delivered the most complete performance of his career.
The junior dominated on both ends of the floor as fourth-ranked Villanova cruised to an emphatic 88-72 victory over 12th-ranked Gonzaga on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Whereas Bridges was once a one-dimensional offensive player who scored mostly by attacking the rim off the dribble or in transition, he has gradually added a reliable jump shot to his game. The 6-foot-6 wing scored 28 points against Gonzaga and sank 5 of 9 threes, punishing the Zags for helping off him or blowing by his defender off the bounce if the closeout came too hard.
Bridges also thrived on defense, showcasing his ability to defend multiple positions with his blend of length, athleticism and lateral quickness. He harassed Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins into a subpar game, blocked a pair of shots and even startled one of the Zags into a turnover just by his presence around the rim.
The signature moment of Bridges’ coming out party came in the second half when he cut through the lane and unleashed a soaring right-hand dunk over 6-foot-11 Gonzaga center Jacob Larsen. Perkins tried to answer at the other end only to have Bridges swat the ball out of bounds with a block that sent the Villanova crowd at Madison Square Garden into a frenzy.
Not sure there’s been a more impressive individual sequence this year than this from Mikal Bridges pic.twitter.com/I1qcEOMHnV
— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) December 6, 2017
The way Bridges has developed from year to year, it’s no surprise NBA scouts are taking notice. He’s a likely first-round pick with a chance to play his way into the lottery if his outside shot stays consistent and he continues to blossom as an impact defender.
As Bridges makes strides, so has Villanova. The Wildcats had the look of a Final Four team in keeping Gonzaga at arm’s length for the final 30-plus minutes on Tuesday night.
Bridges is now a two-way impact player and an All-American candidate. Savvy junior Jalen Brunson is one of the nation’s elite point guards. Phil Booth and Donte DiVicenzo can hurt you off the dribble or via catch-and-shoots. Redshirt freshman Omari Spellman provides much-needed interior scoring, rebounding and rim protection. And former Fordham transfer Eric Paschall is an unsung hero who does a lot of dirty work.
While Bridges and fellow guards Brunson and Phil Booth combined for 60 points, Villanova actually gained separation against Gonzaga by forcing 12 first-half turnovers. The Wildcats also hurt the Zags by getting forwards Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams into game-long foul trouble.
But impressive as Villanova was in all aspects, it was Bridges who earned the headlines.
A promising role player on the Wildcats’ national title team two years ago, Bridges has now blossomed into a budding star.
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