- Associated Press - Friday, November 18, 2016

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Josh Hart loved Villanova’s defense, saying it was biggest reason why the third-ranked Wildcats blew past Wake Forest on Friday.

Hart’s shooting helped a bunch, too.

Hart scored a career-high 30 points off six 3-pointers to lead the Wildcats to a 96-77 victory over Demon Deacons. Villanova (4-0) advanced to the finals of the Charleston Classic, slowing down a Wake Forest offense that scored 103 points a day earlier.

“We were all ready,” Hart said.

Especially Hart, the senior preseason All-American who made five of his team’s first six shots to put the Wildcats up 16-8. Villanova’s team defense made certain Wake Forest (3-1) would not mount a comeback.

“Our defense really fueled our offense,” Hart said. “Getting those stops early on got us playing basketball.”

Hart hit 11 of 14 shots overall and six of his eight long-range attempts. He added four rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists.

Mikal Bridges had 19 points and Kris Jenkins, the hero of Villanova’s championship win last April, added 16.

Wake Forest never could get back in it.

John Collins had 17 points to lead six Demon Deacons in double-figure scoring. The team shot 50 percent (29 of 58) and had just four turnovers. Not a bad showing against the country’s No. 3 team?

“We lost by 20,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. “It was a beat down.”

Villanova will play UCF or the College of Charleston for the title on Sunday night.

Not everything went right for Hart, who was whistled for a technical foul late in the second half with his team ahead double digits when he got tied up and jawed with Wake Forest’s Bryant Crawford down low.

Still, he surpassed his previous top total of 27 points against Akron last season.

Wake Forest made a late run, slicing a 20-point deficit to 87-75 on John Collins’ bucket with 3:55 to go. But Jalen Brunson answered with an uncontested jam for the defending NCAA Tournament champions.

When Kris Jenkins recovered a loose ball moments later, the Wildcats and coach Jay Wright celebrated as if they’d won another national title.

BIG PICTURE

Villanova owns November. The Wildcats are among the best starters in college basketball and continued that against Wake Forest’s powerful offense (Deacons came in averaging 92 points a game) for its 23rd straight November victory. Villanova has won early season November tournaments in 2013-14 (Battle 4 Atlantis), 2014-15 (Legends Classic) and 2015-16 (NIT Season Tipoff). They’ll for a fourth consecutive November crown on Sunday night at TD Arena.

“These tournaments are great,” Wright said. “These guys, they get this. It’s fun to be a part of this.”

Wake Forest does not yet have the defense to match its offense. The Demon Deacons got in a first-half hole by leaving Villanova’s senior stars Hart and Jenkins wide open for several 3-pointers. Jenkins hit two straight in the opening period to send Wake Forest down 41-25. Hart hit six from behind the arc with few defenders nearby.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

With No. 1 Duke’s loss earlier this week, count on Villanova to move up a spot as long as it lifts the Charleston Classic trophy on Sunday night.

INJURY CONCERNS

Wright said freshman forward Tim Delaney will have an MRI done on his surgically repaired hip and is unsure when he’ll return. Wright said junior guard Phil Booth was held out because of continuing tendinitis worries in his left knee after offseason surgery. Booth played 23 minutes on Thursday and Wright thought resting until Sunday would do him well.

UP NEXT

Villanova: Will play either College of Charleston or UCF on Sunday for Charleston Classic championship.

Wake Forest: Will play either College of Charleston or UCF on Sunday for third place at the Charleston Classic.

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