PHILADELPHIA — Collin Gillespie squeezed a stress ball in his dorm room to improve the grip on his injured left hand. Now he has a hold on the role as Villanova’s sixth man — healthy and hopeful he can do his part to lead the Wildcats to yet another Big East title.
Mikal Bridges scored 21 points and Jalen Brunson had 19 to lead No. 1 Villanova to its eighth straight win, 98-78 over Creighton on Thursday night.
The Wildcats (21-1, 8-1 Big East) tied a program record with 19 3-pointers and provided a nice diversion for a city consumed with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Super Bowl.
Yes, the best team in college basketball plays across the street from the NFC champs. It just takes a lot to notice around town this week.
Creighton (17-6, 7-4) became the latest team to learn the hard way just talented the Wildcats are and how they can win in almost any possible.
“It’s a video game,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said of Nova’s offense.
Omari Spellman hit four 3s and scored 14 points, Brunson made 4 of 5 3s and Bridges, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo each made three.
Marcus Foster led the Bluejays with 20 points.
The Wildcats are just waiting for March at this point of the season, and are cruising toward their fifth straight regular-season Big East title and yet another No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Gillespie’s emergence can only strengthen the Wildcats down the stretch.
Gillespie, who had eight points and five assists, missed seven games over five weeks this season with a broken left hand and played his fifth game since his return. Gillespie, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard, has gone from role player to key cog with Phil Booth out indefinitely with a broken bone in his right hand. Gillespie played perhaps his best all-around game of the season and helped the Wildcats build an 18-point lead in the first half.
Coach Jay Wright said he didn’t need to give a pep talk to Gillespie when he returned to the lineup.
“It wasn’t a specific talk to Collin, but to the team it was, hey, we have confidence in him,” Wright said. “He’s getting more comfortable with his hand than he is the offense. He was comfortable with the offense. That part was good.”
Gillespie had two assists early during a 7-0 run. He buried a 3-pointer then took a charge from Marcus Foster on the other end that got the Wildcats rolling. He had an assist on Brunson’s four-point play during a 22-4 run that gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the half.
“You think you’re there and then they hit you with a spurt,” McDermott said.
Only injuries could slow the Wildcats. Gillespie and Booth have been hurt and forward Jermaine Samuels remains sidelined with a broken left hand. Bridges came up limping on his left ankle early in the second half and took a quick seat on the bench. The Wildcats used only seven players in the first half and depth issues, coupled with any more injuries, could crush their bid for a second national title in three seasons.
Gillespie did his part to spark the Wildcats in 23 solid minutes.
“It doesn’t really change. I have to keep bringing energy,” he said.
Creighton: The Bluejays have defeated three Top 25 teams this season but have never in program history beat the No. 1 team in the poll (0-3). … The Bluejays have lost eight straight against the Wildcats. … Even with the three wins, Creighton is 12-25 under coach McDermott against nationally-ranked teams.
Villanova: The Wildcats love to blow out teams. They built a 41-point lead against Saint Joseph’s, 19 points over nationally-ranked Gonzaga, 23 over Temple and 30 over DePaul, among other whopping leads.
Nike sent a seven-person contingent to Villanova for two days to work on a potential redesign of the team uniforms.
Villanova made 19 of 39 3s to match the record set against Saint Joseph’s in December. The Wildcats opened the game with 10 straight 3-point attempts.
Creighton plays Wednesday at DePaul.
Villanova shares the Super Bowl sports schedule on Sunday in Philly against Seton Hall.