Saturday, February 05, 2011

#12 Villanova Mashes Mountaineers, 66-50, And Triumph Over Bob Huggins

To the Wildcat faithful-

#12 Villanova - in a tailspin heading into the contest at the quasi-home floor of the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia - did something highly unexpected on Saturday afternoon.  They had surprisingly little trouble in breezing past a shorthanded, but accomplished, West Virginia squad.  I take particular happiness in any victory over the loathsome Bob Huggins, also.  (As well as the memories of last season's overtime loss to them.)

It's been an unusual two weeks for the Villanova Wildcats.  Two Saturdays ago, they heavily squeezed the Orangemen at the Carrier Dome, in their best game of the season.  Since then, they were upset by Providence in that traditional house of horrors, the Providence Civic Center/Dunkin' Donuts Center.  They lost narrowly to a good Georgetown team in South Philly.  And after dominating the first half against Marquette on Wednesday, they let the contest get surprisingly close down the stretch at the Pavilion, eking out a five-point win.

None of this evidence pointed to the likelihood of any win over West Virginia, let alone a lopsided one.  The Wildcats weren't going to be at the cozy Pavilion.  Instead, they would once more be in South Philly, on a wintry mix of a day, in which the building wasn't particularly full.  The trend line had been down.

The only solace heading in, was the turmoil in the Mountaineers' program.  In January, one Mountaineer had ostentatiously stormed off the court during a game over a dispute about playing time.  Moreover, their best player, Casey Mitchell - the Big East's sixth-leading scorer - had been suspended by Huggins for the last three games.  It was unclear at today's bright and early noon-time tip (yet another reason for the smaller crowd), whether Mitchell would even play.  WVU had, ironically, won two of its last three contests without him  Maybe Huggins considered them better off without Mitchell.

(This all breeds yet another question - what exactly do you have to do to receive a three-game suspension from Huggins, of all people - a coach who notoriously had a 0% graduation rate when he was at Cincinnati?)

The Mitchell drama was a major storyline throughout the day.  He didn't start, and that was viewed as further evidence that he was still in Huggins's doghouse.  Then, with Villanova having the lead late in the first half, Huggins suddenly sent Mitchell in.  It didn't help.

For all the difference that Mitchell made, Huggins might as well have left him in Morgantown (or at least decided to continue his exile for one more game...)  Ultimately, in 13 minutes, Mitchell failed to score, missing three shots, committing two turnovers and a foul, with a pair of rebounds.

Full story coming...

Go Wildcats!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

#7 Wildcats Puree #3 Orangemen, 83-72, in One of the Greatest Wins of the Jay Wright Era

To the Wildcat faithful-

On Saturday at high noon, the #7 Wildcats delivered an incredible victory, in what can only be described as one of the greatest wins of the Jay Wright era on the Main Line.  Wright continued Villanova's remarkable success at the Carrier Dome, guiding the team to a stunning, 83-72 victory over the #3 Syracuse Orangemen.  (I know it's not officially the Orangemen any longer.  I will continue to use the term, nonetheless...)

Maalik Wayns led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 21 points on 6-11 shooting, 3-7 from behind the arc, and perfection from the foul line, on half a dozen attempts.  

Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes also contributed 16 points apiece.  Fisher was 4-8 from the floor, 3-4 from beyond the arc, and also dealt seven assists against four turnovers.  As for Stokes - the Bayonne Bomber was 5-12 from the floor, and was also 4-11 from three-point range.

Also reaching double figures for Villanova was Antonio Pena, who quietly added 10 points and seven rebounds - I was hoping that he'd bring in yet another double-double.  And uncharacteristically, Pena also added four assists.  To get four assists from a power forward, is a testament to Pena's improved passing ability and the quality of the Villanova offensive system.

Syracuse's trademark, traditional 2-3 zone, dovetailed well with a solid strategy - prevent Villanova from running a halfcourt offense designed to get the ball inside to Mouphtaou Yarou.  The Orangemen succeeded in doing so, with the result being that Mouph was rendered almost a non-factor.  Despite not committing a personal foul, the sophomore center saw only 25 minutes, scoring seven points on 3-7 shooting and collecting four rebounds.

One bench player contributed significantly, as well.  Maurice Sutton - just two games removed from serving a one-game suspension for violation of a team rule - saw a surprisingly high 15 minutes, with five rebounds, and two blocks.   Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood saw comparatively little action - combining for 19 minutes, five points, and four rebounds.  (James Bell didn't see any time.)

The Wildcats ran their record to 17-2 overall, and are poised to jump significantly in Monday's AP poll.

It was anticipated that the game might break the record for the largest on-campus crowd to see a college basketball game.  It joined the top three (also Villanova/Syracuse clashes), but ended up as only the second-highest, finishing slightly lower than Villanova's humiliating defeat at the Carrier Dome last season.  

Keys To the Villanova Victory

Clutch Free Throw Shooting.   The surprisingly large 11-point margin of victory, was sustained by Villanova's incredible performance at the foul line.  The Wildcats, of course, lead the Big East in free throw percentage, but even by lofty Villanova standards, it was outstanding - the Wildcats made 22 of their 24 attempts, for 91.7% accuracy (Gary Buchanan-esque, for those of you who remember....)

Accurate Sharpshooting.  Villanova made 50% of its field goal attempts against a very tough Syracuse defense, including 45.8% from beyond the arc.  The Wildcats were red-hot out of the gate, and as a result, were able to maintain a substantial, steady lead throughout the entire contest.

Staying Out of Foul Trouble.  With the Wildcats having such a short bench, and with a tendency to sink into foul trouble, it was a non-issue.  Incredibly, Villanova committed only 10 fouls in the entire game, of which Cheek, a bench player, committed three.  

Speaking of fouls - this was something odd and noteworthy - 

On the last possession of the first half, Villanova was set to inbound the ball with 4.9 seconds to play, under its own basket.  Syracuse had committed only four fouls, and the one-and-one doesn't begin until the seventh foul of the half.  

Jim Boeheim decided that he was better off having one of his starters, Scoop Jardine, commit two deliberate fouls, to make it difficult for Villanova to exploit the 4.9 seconds on the final possession.  He is a Hall of Fame coach, with a national championship, but with all due respect to Boeheim, I disagreed completely with his strategy.  I was more than happy - as I suspect Wright was - to accept the loss of a 4.9 second possession, in exchange for two cheap fouls on one of their starters.  And the further irony - the Wildcats still almost scored at the buzzer, with a shot clanging off the rim, on their third attempt after the two fouls.)

I would have found it more understandable, if Boeheim had sent in a couple of reserves to commit the fouls.  (He did, after all, have an entire bench available - he could have just as easily sent in two end-of-the-bench players to commit them.)  But why one of his starters?

This Victory in Historical Context

This was the first time Villanova had defeated a team ranked this high on the road, since the memorable 1995 victory at Connecticut, on a team featuring Kerry Kittles, Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams, Eric Eberz, Chuck Kornegay and others....  (We won't draw the parallel to that team's ultimate fate in the NCAA tournament, though - the triple-overtime-loss to #14-seed Old Dominion in the first round.)

Next Up For the Wildcats

A trip to lowly Providence is on tap for Wednesday, but Providence has traditionally been a very difficult place for Villanova to win, which we'll discuss further later in the week.  But if Villanova plays the way they did on Saturday, the Friars shouldn't be too much to handle...

Go Wildcats!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

#7 Wildcats Top Terrapins With 19-0 2nd Half Run, Overcome 12 Point Deficit

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #7 Villanova Wildcats - in what we have to acknowledge was an extremely entertaining game, although frightening halfway through the second half - used an incredible 19-0 run in the second half to best a black-jerseyed Maryland Terrapins squad, 74-66, at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.

Despite the close geographical proximity of the two schools, it was only their fifth meeting ever, and the return game from Villanova's trip to Maryland last season.  Maryland was noteworthy in two aspects of Villanova basketball history.  The Terrapins were the third team Villanova vanquished, on its way to the 1985 national championship, in the Sweet 16.  And the following season, they were also the first opponent to ever take the floor at the then-new Pavilion, on campus.

I'll have some more extended thoughts on today's victory...  in the meantime-

Go Wildcats!

Update- full story:

Saturday’s victory over Maryland was one of the oddest games in recent Villanova history.  The Wildcats trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half, before their 19-0 run quelled Maryland’s upset bid.

Villanova’s inability to get to the foul line, particularly in the first half, was one reason why Maryland was able to take a 36-33 halftime lead, en route to the aforementioned 12 point advantage.  The Wildcats, who average well over 20 free throw attempts per contest, had a grand total of three attempts in the first half.  Moreover, when the Wildcats do get there, they make a high percentage of the shots.  Our shooting percentage is tops in the Big East and among the best, nationally.

This was good strategy, on the part of Maryland coach – and Collingswood, NJ, native – Gary Williams, who developed a love of basketball, partially due to his frequent attendance of Palestra doubleheaders.  Although he ultimately played at Maryland, graduating in 1968 (in addition to his 22 years and the 2002 national championship in College Park), Williams originally wanted to play for Penn - which was a national powerhouse at the time.

But back to Saturday's game.  Williams recognized that this was a critical part of our offense, and the Terrrapins were clearly instructed not to commit fouls, if possible.  Villanova makes too many free throws for that strategy to be effective.  (And Maryland had its own weakness in that area – Maryland entered the contest, ranked 306th in Division I, in terms of free throw percentage.)  And Villanova, as a result, barely got to the foul line, during the first half.

Ironically, the issue with fouls came from Villanova’s end.  Mouphtaou Yarou was saddled with foul trouble for the entire contest.  From purely a shooting perspective, Mouph had his worst game of the season.  He missed all six of his field goal attempts, finishing with just three points from the foul line. 

Villanova’s initial plays in the first half were run well, designed to get Mouph shots in the paint.  I believe that had he not gotten into foul trouble, Jay Wright would have continued to run the offense through him, but here’s what happened…

After missing two shots underneath, Mouph committed two quick fouls.  The second one was particularly egregious.  Mouph missed a shot in the post, and then decided – as a way of overcompensating – to foul Maryland’s guard from behind, out on the perimeter.  This was a terrible decision on Mouph’s part, as it took him out of the game.  He was immediately yanked, and logged only five minutes in the first half.

Mouph would then compound his error, by committing his third foul, immediately after play resumed in the second half.  He would ultimately play only 23 minutes, before fouling out in the last two minutes.  He did have an outstanding game on the glass, pulling in a dozen rebounds – a great total even if he had played the entire game, but particularly valuable in light of the relative lack of minutes.

Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have played that much in the second half, given his three fouls in the first 21 minutes.  But Maryland was ahead for much of the second half, and Wright had no choice but to leave him out there.

As it turned out, Mouph’s foul trouble was particularly problematic, since Wright had decided prior to the contest that Maurice Sutton – the player who invariably replaces Mouph if he gets in foul trouble – would be serving a single-game suspension, for violating a team rule.  So Wright had Mouph in foul trouble and Sutton, unavailable.

Villanova’s personnel problems were further compounded when Dominic Cheek sprained his knee in the first half, and didn’t return for the second.  Cheek played only four first-half minutes, did not score, and added two rebounds.

As a result, this was a game, where a shorthanded Villanova team really needed some punch in the paint – and fortunately, Antonio Pena had a great day.  Pena played all but one minute of the game, and turned in a double-double – 14 points on 7-12 shooting, along with 10 rebounds.

Other Wildcats also had fine days on offense.  Maalik Wayns led the way for Villanova, with 22 points on 7-10 shooting from the field and 7-9 shooting from the foul line – in all, a superb performance, particularly in only 29 minutes.  Corey Fisher played all but three minutes, finishing with 17 points on 7-15 shooting overall and 5-6 from three-point range, plus five assists. 

It was a subpar game from Corey Stokes, who struggled from the floor.  He finished with nine points on 4-14 shooting, and made just one of his seven attempts from three-point range.

Coming off the bench, Isaiah Armwood had a monster game on the glass, grabbing 13 rebounds (including five on the offensive end) in just 22 minutes.  James Bell saw 10 minutes, scoring three points to go with one offensive rebound, and one assist.

As a team, the Wildcats did their usual fine conversion rate from the line, connecting on 15 of their 20 attempts (75%).  Although Villanova obviously had no control over this, the Terrapins also had their usual dreadful performance from the foul line – 10-18 (57%).

The CBS Broadcast – Verne Lundquist and Clark Kellogg Were Great

I was particularly happy to learn that Verne Lundquist and Clark Kellogg would be calling the game for CBS.  Kellogg had his share of Kelloggisms, including a compliment to Gregory after a dunk, that he had been “coming strong and coming correct” to the hoop.  (Hopefully, we’ll make it to the Final Four again, and have Kellogg doing the analysis of the Wildcats, once more…)

Lundquist accurately noted the aforementioned, unexpected role that Maryland has played in Villanova basketball history.  But even better, CBS showed a clip from the 1985 Sweet 16 victory, in which you could see young Rollie Massimino, young Steve Lappas, and most surprisingly – young Lundquist!

Lundquist himself noted, in a wry, self-deprecating way - “I had hair back then.”  He added that although he did not call the Villanova/Maryland game in Birmingham, Alabama, he did in fact call the second Sweet 16 game, that took place immediately after it, on that court in Birmingham, over a quarter-century ago.

Maryland Traditions – “Fear the Turtle” and Testudo, Uniforms with Four Colors

I have friends with Maryland ties, and their enthusiasm for the Terrapins (known colloquially as the Terps) knows no bounds.  I must say that although he didn’t make the trip north on Saturday, that Testudo – the formal name for the Terrapin mascot, a giant turtle – is indubitably one of the coolest mascots in all of college basketball.  As much as I love the Wildcat, the only downside to the nickname is that it’s so commonplace, throughout Division I.

“Fear the Turtle” is the Maryland slogan.  Back in the day, when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles entered the pop-culture scene, their “Turtle Power” slogan was also appropriated by the Maryland faithful.

Although, as a general rule, we don’t like black jerseys unless it’s actually the school’s colors – like Providence – Maryland’s black jerseys actually are in keeping with the state’s colors, so we liked them.  Maryland has the coolest flag of any state in the Union – you’ve undoubtedly seen it – the one in which two quadrants are red and white, and the other two black and gold with a checkerboard design.  If you looked carefully yesterday, the uniforms were black and gold, but with red numbers.  Usually, the Maryland uniforms are red and white, with black and gold trim…
One Final Observation

When Villanova was trailing in the second half, the guards rolled the ball up the floor, in order to save a couple of seconds, due to the rule that the clock won’t start until the ball is touched.

Now, this makes some sense, if you’re behind during the last three minutes.  But they did this with over eight minutes to go (yes, eight minutes)!  I don’t think that I’d ever seen a team do that with so much time remaining (I disagree with the tactic, as you can tell!)  Fortunately, that was the only possession on which they tried it.

Next Up For the Wildcats
Villanova has little time to celebrate the victory, as they must make the dreaded trip up to #10 Connecticut, for Monday night’s contest, with the hated Huskies…  Until then-

Go Wildcats!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Villanova / Penn Rivalry History - Updated For 2010 - Wildcats @ Quakers

To the Villanova Wildcat faithful-

Tonight, Wednesday, December 8, 2010, at the storied Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Quakers will clash with the Wildcats, for the 58th time. 

When Jay Wright first arrived on the Main Line as head coach, for the 2001-02 season, the Wildcats lost to Penn, during both of his first two seasons at the helm.  But things sure have changed since December 2002.  Tonight, Wright and the Wildcats will try to achieve their eighth straight victory, over their City Series rivals.

The All-Time Series Since 1922

The 2000s  

November 16, 2009 - Pavilion - #5 Villanova 103, Penn 65

The Villanova / Penn series is played in November, for the first time.  The #5 Wildcats demolish the Quakers - and notably, Wright calls no timeouts, during the entire game.  Afterwards, he remarks that he can recall no previous game as a head coach, whether at Villanova or at Hofstra, in which he did not call a single timeout.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the Wildcats' 103 points mark a record for either team in series history; neither team had ever reached the century mark against the other.

December 1, 2008 - Palestra - #17 Villanova 69, Penn 47 

December 1, 2007 - Pavilion - Villanova 87, Penn 61

December 2, 2006 - Palestra - Villanova 99, Penn 89 (double overtime)

December 13, 2005 - Palestra -  Villanova 62, Penn 55

December 31, 2004 - Pavilion - Villanova 74, Penn 64

December 9, 2003 - Palestra (Big Five Classic) - Villanova 73, Penn 63

December 10, 2002 - Wachovia Center - Penn 72, Villanova 58

December 5, 2001 - Palestra - Penn 75, Villanova 74 (overtime)

February 6, 2001 - Wachovia Center - Villanova 80, Penn 51

January 9, 2000 - Palestra - Villanova 67, Penn 65

The 1990s

February 23, 1999 - Pavilion- Villanova 74, Penn 63

1997-98 - No game, as Villanova was playing its four City Series opponents only every other year, two each season

December 10, 1996Palestra - Villanova 89, Penn 62 

1995-96 - No game, see above 

February 22, 1995 - Pavilion - Villanova 78, Penn 74 

1993-94 - No game, see above 

December 15, 1992 - Old Spectrum - Penn 71, Villanova 59

1991-92 - No game, see above.  This marked the first season since 1955-56, that the teams hadn't clashed - a 36-year tradition broken.

December 3, 1990 - Palestra - Villanova 82, Penn 62

The 1980s

December 4, 1989 - Pavilion - Villanova 75, Penn 46

December 6, 1988  - Palestra - Penn 71, Villanova 70

December 2, 1987 - Pavilion - Villanova 84, Penn 55

January 27, 1986 - Palestra - Villanova 68, Penn 64

December 15, 1984 - Palestra - Villanova 80, Penn 67 

February 21, 1984  - Palestra - Villanova 65, Penn 51 

December 11, 1982 - Palestra - Penn 84, Villanova 80 

December 12, 1981 - Palestra - Villanova 75, Penn 61

January 17, 1981 - Palestra - Villanova 68, Penn 55 

January 19, 1980 - Palestra - Villanova 65, Penn 51

The 1970s

February 13, 1979 - Palestra - Villanova 89, Penn 80

December 10, 1977 - Palestra - Villanova 69, Penn 68

December 18, 1976 - Palestra - Villanova 83, Penn 66 

January 24, 1975 - Palestra - Villanova 69, Penn 67 

December 14, 1974 - Palestra - Penn 90, Villanova 80 

January 23, 1974 - Palestra - Penn 83, Villanova 61 

January 17, 1973Palestra -  Penn 77, Villanova 69

March 16, 1972 - NCAA Tournament - Penn 78, Villanova 67 

January 19, 1972 - Palestra - Penn 74, Villanova 64 

March 20, 1971 - NCAA Tournament, Raleigh, North Carolina, Elite Eight - Villanova 90, Penn 47 

January 23, 1971 - Palestra - Penn 78, Villanova 70

The 1960s

December 20, 1969 - Palestra -  Penn 59, Villanova 55

January 15, 1969 - Palestra -  Penn 32, Villanova 30

January 17, 1968 - Palestra -  Villanova 75, Penn 45

December 30, 1967 - Palestra  - Villanova 45, Penn 44

January 25, 1967 - Palestra - Villanova 71, Penn 54

December 22, 1965 - Palestra - Penn 73, Villanova 60

January 27, 1965 - Palestra - Villanova 75 , Penn 46

December 26, 1964 - Palestra -  Villanova 52, Penn 47 (overtime)

January 25, 1963 - Palestra - Villanova 72, Penn 48

March 11, 1961 Palestra - Penn 82, Villanova 80

January 18, 1961 - Palestra - Penn 63, Villanova 62

January 23, 1960 - Palestra - Villanova 71, Penn 58

The 1950s

January 3, 1959 - Palestra - Villanova 93, Penn 63

February 19, 1958 - Palestra - Villanova 73, Penn 61 

January 16, 1957 - Palestra - Villanova 63, Penn 47 

February 8, 1956 - Palestra - Villanova 89, Penn 74

Prior to the formation of the Big Five, in time for the 1955-56 season, Villanova and Pennsylvania had played just once, surprisingly (?!?).

On January 7, 1922 - in just Villanova's second season of organized, intercollegiate play, in fact - the host Quakers (this was pre-Palestra, in fact - stopped Villanova, 27-23.  The teams then didn't play for another 34 years, despite the close proximity...

Go Wildcats!

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Friday, December 03, 2010

The Holy War - Villanova / St. Joseph's - An Updated Preview For December 2010

To the Wildcat faithful- 

Villanova leads the all-time series, 43-24. As members of the Big Five, the margin is considerably narrower: 32-23. Villanova had won eleven of the twelve meetings since the first game took place in 1921, until the formation of the Big Five in the 1955-56 season. 'Nova has done well in recent years, winning nine of the last dozen contests. Most of the SJU victories came during the 1950s and 1960s; Villanova is 27-12 over the last three decades or so.

This year, as well as the last two years, have marked a departure from the previous scheduling in February.  The telecast had often been featured on ESPN and ESPN2; the ESPN networks had featured the Holy War as part of their "Rivalry Week" series in that month.   This year, it will air on ESPNU, during December.

The Origin of the Series, Prior to the Formation of the Big Five

Villanova played SJU (then St. Joseph's College) twice, during the Wildcats' first ever season on the hardwood, which took place during the 1920-21 school year. The first contest took place on January 15, 1921, on the Main Line, with 'Nova winning 31-22. In the return game, Villanova completed the sweep by prevailing 24-14. The teams clashed often during the 1920s, but after the 1930 game, the series lay dormant for a long time. In the ensuing quarter-century, the only meeting was in 1939. As to why two proximate Catholic schools would go so long without meeting - can't figure it out.

But when the Big Five got rolling, it was SJU's turn to dominate the series. The Hawks won the first six City Series games and ten of the first twelve. The two schools had the honor of clashing in the first-ever Big Five contest at the Palestra, on December 14, 1955- St. Joe's won, 83-70. Surprisingly, the public did not seem all that interested in the game, as a paltry 2,636 spectators showed up for the historic inaugural. Villanova was ordinary that year, finishing at 14-12, but St. Joe's went 25-6 and reached the NIT semifinals.

The lack of interest is even more surprising, in light of the fact that starting with the 1958 game, every single VU/SJU game attracted a sellout or near-sellout crowd at the Palestra, with the high attendance continuous for all games since then, regardless of venue. The attendance for the 1957 game climbed to 5,659, but then the Palestra was packed to the rafters for Villanova/St. Joe's.

Some Memorable Games in the Series (Villanova victories in light blue, St. Joseph's victories in crimson)

February 12, 1958

Villanova loses to St. Joe's, 86-82, in overtime, after failing to hold a 17 point lead.

January 28, 1961

St. Joe's was a powerhouse, and would finish with a 25-5 record under Jack Ramsay
, a deep NCAA tournament run, and a City Series sweep. In the last season for legendary coach Alexander Severance, Villanova would finish winless in City Series play and with a dismal 11-13 record. But the Wildcats nearly pulled off a huge upset, losing only 64-63.

March 3, 1962

New coach Jack Kraft leads the Wildcats to their first-ever City Series victory over the Hawks, prevailing 66-59. The victory gives Villanova its first City Series sweep, with Hubie White leading the way with 23 points and 17 rebounds. Both teams went on to the NCAA tournament, in an era when the tournament field was very small.

February 20, 1965

This was the most titanic clash in Holy War history, as in no other year have both schools simultaneously posted such gaudy records. St. Joe's would finish at 26-3, with a 4-0 City Series sweep, and reach the NCAA tournament. Villanova would finish at 23-5 and reach the NIT semifinals. And when they met head-to-head, there was a bizarre incident - a bomb scare at the Palestra. 

According to a perhaps legendary tale, radio broadcaster Les Keiter refused to go off the air during the threat, announcing his intention to stay there all night if necessary. It turned out to be a false alarm, and the Hawks won, 69-62.

January 16, 1966

In one of the most written about Big Five finishes, Hawk substitute Steve Donches
connects on a 29-footer at the buzzer to give SJU a 71-69 victory.

January 11, 1969

The legendary Wildcat center Howard Porter turns in one of his most incredible performances, scoring 36 points and grabbing 26 rebounds to help Villanova blow out St. Joe's, 87-62. The 25 point margin was Villanova's most lopsided victory in the series to that point. The performance helps propel Porter to a share of the Geasey Award (the Big Five MVP) with La Salle's Ken Durrett.

February 20, 1971/March 13, 1971

In Villanova's second-greatest season, the Porter-led Wildcats will go 23-6 and reach the NCAA championship game before bowing to John Wooden's UCLA dynasty. But en route, they meet St. Joe's twice in one season, for the first time since 1923. In the City Series game, Villanova triumphs 63-55, although Hawks center Mike Bantom
outplays Porter.

The schools would meet again at the Palestra, in the first round of the NCAA tournament (the only time, before or since, the Holy War has extended to postseason play). 'Nova won in a rout, 93-75.

January 27, 1973

In Kraft's final season, Villanova scuffled to a rare losing record at 11-14. St. Joe's went 22-6 and to the NCAA tournament. But the Wildcats shocked the heavily favored Hawks, 79-72, with 43 points coming from Tom Ingelsby- the Geasey winner - and Ed Hastings.

February 22, 1975

Rollie Massimino wins his first game against the Hawks: Larry and Keith Herron each score 19 points in Villanova's 71-67 victory. The attraction of the rivalry was quite evident at this point. Villanova and St. Joe's finished with disastrous 9-18 and 8-17 records, respectively. La Salle and Penn had fantastic seasons, in contrast. But Villanova/St. Joe's drew 9,233 fans, the 3rd-highest total of the ten City Series contests. (Penn/Villanova and Penn/La Salle were the only others to draw more than 7,300).

February 19, 1977

The first City Series game away from the Palestra, as the Villanova/St. Joe's game goes to the Spectrum, to accommodate more fans for both schools. The Wildcats win 92-78, in front of 12,138 fans.

February 23, 1980

For the first time, the Wildcats and Hawks meet while both squads are 3-0 in City Series play. In front of a sold-out Palestra, the Hawks came away with a narrow 60-59 victory to give St. Joe's its first City Series title since 1968.

February 22, 1983

In the second Spectrum game in the series, a record throng of 18,060 witnesses a 70-62 Wildcat victory, the most to ever witness a Holy War.

February 19, 1985

It was the annus mirabilis (in Latin, the "year of miracles") on the Main Line. And perhaps the basketball gods' first sign of favor took place at the Spectrum, in the Holy War.

Villanova entered the game having lost three in a row, while the Hawks had won nine straight. Villanova was 3-0 in City Series play, but SJU was 1-1 and could pursue a share of the Big Five title with a victory over the 'Cats. 'Nova started the game on a 9-2 run, but by halftime the Hawks had overtaken them, 22-19. St. Joe's led 30-23 with 14:18 to go, before 'Nova rallied. Ed Pinckney connected on two free throws to draw the Wildcats even at 44 with 3:08 to play.

It seems odd to write this today, in the era of the shot clock, but SJU nearly succeeded in holding the ball for three minutes to take the last shot. Dwayne McClain rebounded the errant St. Joe's shot with only four seconds to go. On the inbounds play, McClain hit a 18-footer and was fouled. By converting the three-point play, McClain gave Villanova a 47-44 victory- and the outright Big Five title for the first time since 1967.

McClain's 18 points and Harold Pressley's 14 points paced 'Nova, as they each went 7-11 from the floor.
Rodney Blake
led the Hawks with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

February 19, 1987

"Daddy Mass" had the chance to win his 300th game against the Hawks. It took double overtime at the Palestra, but the Wildcats finally delivered an 88-87 victory. (Once a perennial fixture at the Palestra, it would be the last Holy War at the basketball cathedral for over seven years, until December 1994).

December 12, 1988

The Hawks soar into the Pavilion for the first time ever, facing a powerful Wildcat squad that would reach the Elite Eight come March. But the heavy-underdog Hawks pull off a 53-52 upset over Doug West, Mark Plansky and Tom Greis, thanks to a 15-foot bank shot by the obscure "Pick" Brown.
(Villanova finished the season at 24-13, the Hawks at 15-14.)

December 18, 1994

The Holy War, now taking place every other year due to Villanova's 1991-99 withdrawal from the full round-robin, returns to the Palestra for the first time in over six years. #22 Villanova - at the apex of the Kerry Kittles era - is a heavy favorite over a small, slow St. Joe's squad. (The Hawks hadn't reached postseason play since 1986.) 

But Dmitri Domani hits two key free throws down the stretch, to give St. Joe's a 60-57 upset victory. Kittles graduates as the first Wildcat superstar since the 1950s, to never beat St. Joe's (albeit with only two opportunities, rather than four).

Although nobody knew it at the time, it would be the last Holy War for SJU coach John Griffin, who also had been a Hawk player; he resigned at the end of the season, and was replaced by one of his longtime assistants, Phil Martelli. However , St. Joe's would not defeat Villanova again, for another decade.

December 23, 1996

At Christmas time, Villanova coach Steve Lappas, as well as stars Alvin Williams and Jason Lawson, finally defeat St. Joe's. The #10 Wildcats had only one disadvantage - the absence of freshman sensation Tim Thomas, sidelined with an injury. After struggling in the first half, the Wildcats go on a 24-3 run in the second half to win easily, 81-65. (There is a huge Pavilion crowd of 6,672, including a healthy number of Hawk partisans able to obtain tickets, with the VU students on break.)

The victory looks more significant in light of subsequent events than it seemed at the time. St. Joe's - which hadn't been to the NCAA tournament in over a decade - went on to a highly unexpected 26-7 season and Sweet 16 appearance. However, at the time, the 'Nova victory was considered routine, given the Wildcats' vast advantages in talent (even with Thomas out).

December 1, 1998 -

The Wildcats make it two in a row over the Hawks, 61-49, thanks to 15 points each from seniors Howard Brown and Rafal Bigus. Brown punctuates the game with several acrobatic feats, including a highly memorable tip dunk.

February 17, 2000 - Pavilion

This was the first Holy War to take place, after the joyous announcement during the previous off-season, that Villanova would resume participation in the full-round robin, starting with the 1999-2000 season. 

The Wildcats had been absent from the round-robin, beginning with the 1991-92 season, an eight-year absence.

Marvin O'Connor,
who transferred from 'Nova to St. Joe's after his freshman season of 1997-98, takes on his former teammates for the first time. (Intra-Big Five transfers are rare.) O'Connor leads the Hawks with 20 points, but on only 8-24 shooting. Gary Buchanan singlehandedly gives the Wildcats a hard-fought, 68-61 victory, with a 24 point outburst.

December 11, 2000

The Holy War returns to the Palestra. St. Joe's comes close to its long-denied victory over the Wildcats, leading 39-32 at intermission. O'Connor dazzles with 32 points on 11-17 shooting to lead the Hawks. But 'Nova rallies in the second half to come away with a hard-fought, thrilling 78-75 victory. Michael Bradley has a field day in the paint, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Reggie Bryant and Aaron Matthews add 13 for the 'Cats.

February 2002 - Pavilion

In the first Holy War under Jay Wright, Villanova eviscerated SJU at the Pavilion, 102-73, the largest margin of victory for either side in the then-81 year history of the series. Gary Buchanan led the way with 28 points, including a career-high seven three-pointers.

February 2003 - Palestra

Martelli had been the most successful coach at SJU since Jack Ramsay
, having won Atlantic 10 titles and reached a Sweet 16 in 1997. He defeated Villanova for the first time in six tries, as the Hawks humiliated the 'Cats, 92-75, at the Palestra. Incredibly, the 17-point final margin does not accurately reflect, how lopsided the game actually was.

During the first eight minutes, the Wildcats committed 15 turnovers and scored three baskets. The Hawks started the contest on a 40-9 run - and the 17-point deficit was actually the closest Villanova drew after that, during the entire game. (One particularly zealous Hawk partisan actually had the opening run immortalized on his Pennsylvania license plate: "SJ40-VU9".)

Jameer Nelson had 30 points to lead the Hawks. Delonte West,
who had been the lead story entering the game, after media reports surfaced regarding an altercation he had allegedly had with the SJU trainer, did not start as a result. But playing 26 minutes, he scored 25 points.

February 2004

The #3 Hawks entered the Pavilion soaring as high as they ever have, bringing an unblemished 18-0 mark into the game; they would eventually garner a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and reach the Elite Eight. However, the Wildcats substantially improved upon the sorry spectacle of the previous year. The overmatched Wildcats fought admirably before finally falling, 74-67.

Nelson and West combined for 45 points, but Mike Nardi led the Wildcat counterattack with 16 points and five assists. A three-pointer from Andreas Bloch cut the Hawk lead to 54-50, with less than nine minutes to play, before what had to have been one of the largest crowds in Pavilion history. But that was as close as 'Nova came to an upset.

February 2005

By a remarkable twist of fate, Super Bowl XXXIX between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots is scheduled for the previous day. And so Holy War LXII is relegated to the back burner. Lost amidst the avalanche of Super Bowl coverage, it was the probably the least hyped battle between the two schools since the formation of the Big Five.

VU was enjoying its first great year, under Jay Wright, and entered the contest with a #22 ranking. SJU was coming off a remarkable season in which they were undefeated until the Atlantic 10 tournament and ranked #1 for a week. The Hawks had reached the Elite Eight (moreover, coming within a Jameer Nelson shot of reaching the Final Four), and with both teams enjoying a renaissance, it should have had the makings of a fantastic contest.

However, the melancholia of the crowd (for both teams) was too much to overcome. The Patriots' vanquishing of the Eagles, on the previous evening, cast a funereal pall over the proceedings, like a vast, billowing fog through which no other sporting event could shine.

And as it turned out, the game wasn't all that good, anyway. The Wildcats were never challenged in a slow, foul-marred game, which they won, 67-52. Jason Fraser had arguably the finest game of his star-crossed career, coming off the bench to score 14 points, grab 14 rebounds and block two shots, despite being hampered by a heavily bandaged hand and playing only 29 minutes. 

The Hawks' Pat Carroll, a superb outside shooter, would miss his first 13 shots, as SJU had mustered only 20 points with less than 14 minutes to play.

Finally, the Hawks' band would play, during garbage time, a mournful version of "Fly, Eagles, Fly", accurately reflecting what was on the mind of the Palestra crowd... 

February 7, 2006 - Palestra

It was the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the Big Five. And as fate would have it, both teams entered the sold-out, packed-beyond-capacity Palestra, with perfect 3-0 City Series marks: the winner would take the 50th Big Five title. This represented only the fourth time in the Big Five's half-century history, that two schools would enter a City Series contest, with both having 3-0 records.

And despite a terrible first half, Villanova ended up withe the chance to savor another City Series sweep. Despite the unavailability of a tonsillitis-stricken Mike Nardi, the #4 Wildcats were heavy favorites over the Hawks. And so there was much astonishment in the venerable building, when St. Joseph's dominated the first half. Villanova was trailing by double-digits, 34-22, at halftime.

But Villanova rallied to defeat the Hawks, 71-58, for the second year in a row, capturing the City Series crown. "Nova annihilated SJU after intermission, winning the second half by more than doubling up the Hawks, 49-24. The Wildcats shot a stunning 68% in the second half, after scuffling to an anemic 30% in the first half.  

Kyle Lowry, playing in his second (and since he ultimately left early for the NBA, final) contest with SJU, scored 25 points, including 17 in the second-half counterattack, which featured a 21-3 Wildcats run. The gifted senior backcourt of Allan Ray and Randy Foye also contributed 14 points apiece. For SJU, Chet Stachitas had 19 points, with Abdulai Jalloh adding 15 points and Dwayne Lee recording 11 points. 

February 6, 2007 - Pavilion 

Villanova 56, St. Joseph's 39 

The Hawks are held to their lowest Holy War total in 68 years, as Villanova completes a City Series sweep - read my full game story here.  

February 4, 2008 - Palestra 

St. Joseph's 77, Villanova 55  

St. Joseph's prevents Villanova from sweeping the City Series, with a 77-55 victory.  Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson each score 20 points to lead the Hawks, while Darrin Govens adds 16; Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds score a dozen points apiece, for the Wildcats. 

December 11, 2008 - Pavilion 

#12 Villanova 59, St. Joseph's 56 

The Wildcats rally from a 35-26 halftime deficit against the underdog Hawks, triumphing 59-56.  Reynolds scores 18 points, including the winning free throws with 4.8 seconds to play, to cap the comeback.  Govens has 18 points to lead the Hawks. 

December 9, 2009 - The Palestra

#3 Villanova 97, Saint Joseph's 89

The Wildcats entered the game with a perfect 8-0 record, and held off a surprisingly spirited effort from an overmatched Hawks squad, which had limped into the contest at 3-5.  The Wildcats' lead at halftime was just 41-38, and it would have gone down as one of the greatest upsets in Holy War history had the Hawks managed to topple the third-ranked team in the land.

However, Scottie Reynolds' 22 points paced the Wildcats, as the senior - facing the Hawks for the final time - also grabbed half a dozen caroms.  For the Hawks, Idris Hilliard led the way with 22 points and seven rebounds.
Another chapter written, tonight, at the Pavilion...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

#6 Wildcats Maul Marist in NIT Tip-Off First Round, 84-47, At Pavilion

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #6 Wildcats had no trouble getting past a hopelessly overmatched Marist Red Foxes squad, 84-47, at the Pavilion on Tuesday night.  No fewer than five Wildcats made it into double figures, by the final buzzer.  

Villanova was paced by its youthful backcourt of Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek.  Wayns finished with 17 points on 6-11 shooting, and seven rebounds, the latter being a remarkable number for a point guard.   Cheek came off the bench to add 15 points on 6-10 shooting, great numbers for a player who logged only 22 minutes.

Villanova held a 36-24 advantage at intermission, as Marist had stayed within reasonable striking distance, but the Wildcats really pulled away in the second half, scoring 48 additional points en route to a 39-point blowout victory.  The entire team played fine defense, as Marist mustered only 47 points - in other words, Villanova's 48 second-half points alone, would have been enough for a 48-47 victory.   (This undoubtedly would have made for a far more exciting contest, though, if the Wildcats had trailed 47-0 at halftime and rallied to win.)

The Wildcats made it 2-0 on the young season, and although this was not a surprising outcome, the final numbers look like what they should for a Top 10 team at home against a low-major opponent.  So while we can't read too much into it, there's reason for optimism.

Next Up for the Wildcats
There is only a brief respite, before facing the Boston University Terriers in the next round of the preseason NIT at the Pavilion, at 8:00 PM this evening.   Unfortunately, the game won't be televised...

Go Wildcats!

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

#6 Wildcats Top Wright's Alma Mater, Bucknell, In Season Opener

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #6 Wildcats - ranked in the top 10 to start the season - launched the 2010-11 season with a victory over Bucknell, 68-52, at the Pavilion.  The Bison of Bucknell - one of my favorite nicknames in all of college basketball - put up a gallant effort against Jay Wright's powerhouse squad, but there was no upset to be had.

Rarely has a season opened in such warm weather in Philadelphia, either.  This season opener was earlier than normal, and with unseasonably balmy temperatures around here, it doesn't really feel quite like time for basketball yet, even Villanova basketball with a preseason ranking in the Top 10.
Bucknell is chiefly notable as the alma mater of Jay Wright.  Wright played four seasons at Bucknell, graduating in 1982.  As Wright once put it, "I grew up a Villanova fan.  And I wanted to play for Villanova and Rollie Massimino.  But I wasn't good enough!  So I played at Bucknell."  Little did he know, back then, of course, that he'd be at the helm of his favorite team for a decade...

Next Up For the Wildcats

Villanova will now participate in the 2010 NIT Season Tip-Off, the more elaborate name for what was once simply known as the Pre-season NIT.  Their first battle is against the Marist Red Foxes, on Tuesday, November 16 at the Pavilion.

Go Wildcats!

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