SAN ANTONIO — Mikal Bridges isn’t worried about the numbers of shots he’s getting within Villanova’s highly efficient attack. And he doesn’t always jump out when watching the Wildcats as he glides through that rolling-right-along offense.
That makes him possibly the embodiment of why this Villanova team is preparing to play Michigan for its second national championship in three seasons.
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This is the rare NBA prospect who can stand out by blending in, the other half of the Wildcats’ 1-2 punch behind Associated Press national player of the year Jalen Brunson. The 6-7 redshirt junior made a huge leap from a year ago to develop into a top pro prospect, offering game-changing potential for Monday’s final with his two-way defensive ability and 3-point range even if he’s not always putting up huge numbers.
“My main role is to go out there and try to lead this team … and always stay aggressive,” Bridges said Sunday. “I don’t need that many shots because we just play off each other, see how the defense plays us, and we just make plays for each other.
“None of us cares about how many shots we take.”
“A perfect dime!”
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None of this is to say that Bridges fails to offer productive stats for the Wildcats (35-4). He’s the East Region champion’s No. 2 scorer (17.6 points) and rebounder (5.3) while shooting 51 percent from the floor, nearly 44 percent from behind the arc and about 85 percent from the line.
He’s also the team leader in steals (1.5) and is second in blocks (1.1).
“He’s a complete player,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
And yet, the guy projected as a possible top-10 NBA pick if he declares for the draft averages 11.9 shot attempts and has reached even 18 shots once all year.
— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) April 1, 2018
Villanova’s 3-after-3-after-3 win against Kansas in Saturday’s national semifinals offered an example. Bridges finished with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting with two of the Wildcats’ Final Four-record 18 3-pointers.
Oh yeah, he also had a pair of blocks and steals, too.
“There’s not too many guys like that,” said teammate Phil Booth, one of four Wildcats to get up more shots than Bridges against the Jayhawks. “Last night they focused a lot on him, showed him a lot of double teams and he was just making the right play — passing the ball, wasn’t forcing anything.
“There’s a lot of guys who would try to do too much and maybe try to take over. But he doesn’t do that. He’ll get shots when they come, but he’s going to play defense, he’s going to rebound, he’s going to block shots.”
Bridges played as a reserve on Villanova’s 2016 national champion, then averaged 9.8 points in his first year as a starter as a sophomore. But after an offseason of work with the opportunity for a leading role, Bridges blossomed with a fast start that included helping the Wildcats win the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas in November.
His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, described Bridges as a long-humble kid driven to do any little thing it takes to win games.
“It’s something he wanted to do, and he’s like, ‘OK, now it’s my turn to step up to the plate and do it,'” she said. “Mikal’s a very competitive person and I think combined with his drive, he really has the strong urge of wanting to be successful and wanting to make a difference to help his team win.
“If you didn’t know about him, you’d be, ‘Oh, he did OK’ (against Kansas), but I think that’s the beauty of Mikal. He’s such a dimensional player. He can be what you need him to be.”
Bridges, for his part, said he gained plenty of confidence through his offseason work and that he could “kind of feel myself getting better every day.” But, he said, even he didn’t expect to have had quite this kind of climb.
He’ll get a final chance this season to add to it in the Alamodome on Monday night.
“Obviously it’s kind of higher than I thought, where I’m at right now,” Bridges said. “But I always thought I was going to get better and better every day. I knew maybe one day I’d get in position to be a top player.”