NEW YORK — If there was any question or debate about Villanova’s status as an elite team, one that can legitimately contend for the national title, it should be over.

The Wildcats are in.


They are a member of the club that looks to include Duke, Michigan State and Kansas.

The group will expand and then shrink back again over the next few months. But this Nova team has staying power, similar to what it had two years ago when it won the national title in a final finish for the ages.

Villanova dominated Gonzaga in nearly every facet of the game Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic. Points in the paint? Points off turnovers? Fast break points? Second-chance points? Turnovers? Name a stat and the Wildcats won it, save one less board.

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Villanova coach Jay Wright discussed after the game the leadership he is receiving from Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth. All three are in their third year of playing at Nova, and for Booth and Bridges, their fourth in school.

“We’ve got our leadership in a good spot,’’ Wright said after Bridges scored 28 points, Booth 20 and Brunson 12 to go along with five assists and three turnovers. “They all kept our focus defensively even when we had a lead.’’

Nova seems to always have players who are willing to sit, work on their game, mature and get in position to help the Wildcats compete for a Big East and national title.

And ultimately they can possibly put themselves in position to be pros.

“We get a lot of those kind of guys who are smart enough to know I have a chance to be a pro but it’s going to take some time,’’ said Wright. “I might be a little thin. I might need to work on my jumper. But I want to invest that time and I want to be in college. It’s that combination. Mikal is a great example. So is Phil and even Jalen, who is going to graduate after this year in this third year.’’

Bridges has steadily improved the past three seasons. His numbers have climbed from 6 to 10 to 18. He is shooting over 50 percent. He’s logging nearly 30 minutes a game. He’s efficient in nearly every offensive category.

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