NEW YORK, NY. - Mikal Bridges had his coming out performance as one of top players in the nation, scoring a career-high 28 points to lead No. 4 Villanova to an 88-72 victory over No. 12 Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
Bridges, a 6-foot-7 junior guard, had shown Villanova (9-0) what he could do this season with three games of 20-plus points that already signaled he may be the best player on the Big East champs.
Against an NCAA title game finalist and in prime time on basketball's biggest stage, Bridges flashed the type of all-around talent that should make him an NBA first-round draft pick.
His defining moment came in the second half: Bridges slashed the lane and unleashed a monster right-hand dunk over 6-11 center Jacob Larsen. Gonzaga's Josh Perkins tried the same move on the next set only to have Bridges swat the ball out of bounds with a block that had the Nova fans that filled MSG roaring on each big screen replay.
Bridges hit five 3s in the first meeting between two programs that have ranked among the best for the last 15 years. Villanova won the 2016 national championship and the Zags lost the 2017 title game to North Carolina.
He even startled one Zag into a turnover just by his presence around the rim.
Zach Norvell Jr. led Gonzaga (7-2) with 22 points and Perkins had 16.
Bridges cut off the Bulldogs each time they made a small run. The Zags inched to seven early in the second half and Bridges connected on a 3. He came up with a tough bucket inside and drew a foul on one possession and followed with a 3 on the next to make it a 10-game game.
Bridges dunk-and-block destroyed whatever mojo Gonzaga had left and the Wildcats cruised in their first real test of the season.
The Wildcats played every bit like a national championship favorite in a first half where they picked apart the Zags. Bridges had 12 points, Phil Booth had 11 of his 20 points and the Wildcats hit six 3s to build a 43-30 lead.
Villanova is more than a few NBA-ready scorers carrying the offense. Eric Paschall missed both of his shots in the half but it was his kickout passes on consecutive possessions that led to 3s from Booth and Bridges. Donte DiVincenzo made it three straight 3s that brought the Nova fans to their feet.
Booth proved his twice surgically repaired left knee was fine on a high-flying dunk and even the players got loud at the Garden: Villanova's deep reserves bolted from the bench and bellowed "Charge! Charge! Charge!" late in the half and sure enough the foul was called on Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura.
The Wildcats made the short 105-mile trip compared to nearly 2,600 miles for the Zags and had the decided fan support at MSG. The Wildcats, a regular at the Garden in the Big East Tournament, could hoist that trophy in front of the faithful again in March in New York.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs lost their second game after losing just one in the regular season on the way to the title game. The Bulldogs were picked this year to finish second in the WCC, behind archrival Saint Mary's.
Villanova: The Wildcats followed a school-record 19 3s in their last game against Saint Joseph's with 10 against Gonzaga.
Gonzaga: The Zags play against Pac 12 Washington on Sunday.
Villanova: The Wildcats look to extend their dominance in Philadelphia's city series Sunday against La Salle.