Thursday, November 27, 2003

Ohio State Buckeyes Bounce Villanova, 67-66, in 5th-Place Game, in the Maui Invitational Tournament

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

The Villanova Wildcats completed their surreal journey across the globe, with a tough loss to Ohio State in the fifth place game of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday afternoon, at the Lahaina Civic Center. 'Nova finished sixth in the eight-team field, emerging with one victory in three tries, including a loss to Division II host Chaminade.

This trip did not go as well as 'Nova's last trip to Maui. In 1995, Villanova's last appearance in the Maui Classic, the Wildcats won the tournament, a conquest made especially memorable by a victory over Dean Smith's North Carolina squad, which boasted Antawn Jamieson and Vince Carter.

Villanova trailed badly at halftime, 39-24, but fought back to make Ohio State sweat out crunch time. The Buckeyes could muster only one basket during the final five minutes, keeping the Wildcats alive. 'Nova kept the game close, battling to the very end, but ultimately came up a little short. Mike Nardi nailed a clutch 3 just as time ran out - the Villanova faithful were hoping as it was in the air that perhaps a fraction of a second might remain, but it was too late - the clock was all zeroes when the shot went through the net. Tony Stockman led Ohio State with 17 points, while Terence Dials added 12 points and nine boards.

For 'Nova, scoring was remarkably well-distributed; four of 'Nova's six players reached double figures. The backcourt of Allan Ray and Randy Foye once again led the way, scoring 21 and 18 points respectively; Foye added eight assists, but he struggled from the floor (he made only 6 of 17 attempts). Chris Charles scored ten points on 5-7 shooting and hauled in five rebounds. Mike Nardi also contributed 11 points.

'Nova fell to 3-2 overall, while Ohio State improved to 2-2. It was only the schools' third time facing each other, the second time since 1939, and the first meeting since the Watergate era - they had last met on December 30, 1974, with 'Nova winning 87-86. (Ohio State now leads all-time, 2-1.)

Villanova was once again hamstrung by long-distance-call-induced suspensions. Coach Jay Wright was once again only able to use a limited number of players: as noted above, only six Wildcats saw action (Foye, Ray, Nardi, Will Sheridan, Charles, and Mike Claxton). It easily made the difference in a one-point loss. Since Claxton played only seven minutes - basically, all of the starters played the entire game. (And some of Claxton's minutes came solely due to Charles' foul trouble - he played only 35 minutes before fouling out.)

Overall, Villanova's effort was hampered by terrible defense - Ohio State shot 54% from the floor, and when that happens, usually you don't lose by just one. The weakness underneath, with just Charles and Sheridan available, was clearly evident. And the Wildcats were lucky that they weren't completely buried by the Buckeyes, before the game even really started. Ohio State raced out of the blocks to leads of 11-3 and 24-10, the latter coming off a Stockman triple with just over eight minutes to play in the first half. The Buckeyes' first-half advantage peaked at 17 with just under four minutes to go, when Stockman's jumper doubled up Villanova at 34-17. Ray singlehandedly kept the 'Cats in it, scoring Villanova's final seven points of the half, which ended at 39-24.

Ohio State was able to maintain a healthy lead for much of the second half. It held a 13 point advantage at 43-30 lead after a Dials hook shot. Although 'Nova eroded the lead somewhat over the next few minutes, the Buckeyes boosted it back to 55-42 near the midpoint of the second half. They continued to lead by as many as 12, after Stockman hit another jumper at the 5:50 mark to put the tally at 60-48. The Wildcats plugged away, getting it down to seven, when Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (one of the truly memorable names among Villanova opponents, through the years) made a free throw to push it back to eight at the under-four minute timeout.

Villanova was undaunted, however. The Wildcats somehow found an offensive explosion, embarking on a 8-1 run at a fantastic time. Nardi drained a three with 1:42 to play to make it 64-63 - while OSU went cold. The Villanova bench was up yelling and screaming and waving towels, exhorting their teammates to continue the rally.

Unfortunately, the 'Cats couldn't get over the hump. As it turned out, OSU led in this contest, from buzzer to buzzer. With 50 seconds to go, clinging to the 64-63 lead, the Buckeyes turned the ball over. Foye was unable to make the front end of a one-and-one, and Stockman artfully dodged Villanova's defense to lay it in, putting OSU up 66-63 with 32 seconds to play. Foye had a chance to redeem himself, on the next possession, but missed a triple with about 15 seconds left. Fuss-Cheatham made only one of two free throws, but it was a big one - the one that transformed the contest from a one-possession to a two-possession game. (And it turned out to make the difference, after Nardi hit the three at the buzzer to cut it to one.)

On the whole, the Wildcats acquitted themselves admirably in Hawaii. Perhaps my expectations were too low, but I anticipated only one victory in three games (I assumed it would be over Chaminade, naturally). So I'm not disappointed. The Wildcats won one game and lost two others in nail-biters. One factor that might have helped 'Nova: the building was air-conditioned, for the first time in tournament history. Given that it was 80 degree weather, in a small building, the undermanned 'Cats would have been particularly susceptible to the fatigue-inducing effects of the heat. And thus, the fact that the AC was rolling was probably a break for them.

The Wildcats will now enjoy a substantial break from the grueling schedule, which included four games in five days, across 13,000 miles, three different time zones, and all three NCAA Divisions. They don't return to action for nine days, until the December 6 Big Five Classic at the Palestra, where they will take on La Salle. They will return to the grand old building three days later to face Penn.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Villanova Wildcats Bust Broncos of Santa Clara in Overtime, 53-51, in 2nd Round of Maui Invitational

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

In a thrilling game which unfortunately almost no Wildcat fans could watch, due to the lack of TV coverage - the Wildcats rose from a moribund effort late in the second half, rallied to force overtime and ultimately outlasted Santa Clara, 53-51, in the second round of the Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii.

Randy Foye and Curtis Sumpter led the way with 17 and 16 points, respectively, while Kyle Bailey (12 points) and J.R. Patrick (10 points) reached double figures for the Broncos. Villanova improved to 3-1, while Santa Clara fell to 0-2, on the young season.

Villanova will take on Ohio State for fifth place, at 2 PM EST on Wednesday afternoon, in its final game at Maui.

This was a game which somewhat atones for the tough loss to Division II Chaminade in yesterday's first round contest. Villanova had no business winning this game; Santa Clara was ahead for virtually the entire game and seemed poised to advance through the consolation bracket. It was the team's first meeting since 1995, when Steve Nash's Broncos and Kerry Kittles's Wildcats clashed, and only their second ever, with Villanova winning both contests.

The keys to Villanova's victory were a strong resilience and stifling defense. The 'Cats did not give up despite trailing 47-42 with 18 seconds to play in regulation - instead, they battled back, ripped off five quick points, mandating an extra period. And the defense was outstanding. To allow only 51 points in a 45 minute contest is fantastic. Santa Clara's shooting totals were poor: 31% from the floor and 28% from three-point range.

Unfortunately, the 'Cats' shooting wasn't appreciably better. The Wildcats managed only 36% from the floor, and an even worse 21% from beyond the arc. There were plenty of bricks to be seen in sunny Hawaii today. The three experienced players available for today's game - sophomores Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Curtis Sumpter - went a combined 13-34 from the floor.

After taking a brief 6-5 lead, Villanova would not retake the lead until overtime; there were four lead changes in the first half but none in the second, until 'Nova tied it at the end. Santa Clara built a lead of as much as nine (19-10) after Brandon Rohe hit a triple just before under-4 minute media timeout. It's never good when you have just 10 points with four minutes to play in a half. Villanova started hitting some shots, fortunately, scoring seven quick points in the final four minutes to haul a respectable 23-17 deficit into the locker room at halftime.

Villanova's efforts were further hamstrung when Randy Foye picked up his fourth foul, foolishly. There were about seven minutes left in the game and the Santa Clara player was 25 feet from the basket, and Villanova could ill afford to lose Foye. But to the bench he went. At the 6:51 mark in the second half, an unusual play took place. Mike Nardi barreled into a Bronco, and the officials were split as to whether it should be a block or a charge - one called it, each way. This led to a conference as to what call should stand. The officials decided, in Solomonic fashion, to simply split the difference - it was BOTH. Nardi and the defender were both slapped with a foul, there were no free throws, and Villanova was awarded the ball by virtue of controlling the possession arrow. While I knew that in the case of double fouls, the team with the arrow gets the ball - I had never known it was possible to invoke that rule on a charge/block. By definition, that particular play HAS to be one or the other - it can't be both. (Usually, the double foul rule is invoked when officials have to break up a fight and can't decide which player was the aggressor.)

After that play (perhaps as a result of it), Santa Clara scored, tying its largest lead of nine, at 38-29 with 6:18 to play. Jay Wright called timeout, and it seemed to be all over but the shouting for the 'Cats. But to their credit, they came back with a 10-3 run to force their way back into the game. Their cause was helped when Foye returned (after some gallant fill-in work by Mike Claxton). The run culminated with an Allan Ray 3 at the 2:47 mark, drawing Villanova within two at 41-39.

Both teams seemed intent on giving away the game at the line. While the overall foul shooting percentages were fine (Villanova 67% against Santa Clara's 63%), it appeared that both teams struggled at the line at crunch time. Unfortunately, Ray abetted Santa Clara's poor foul shooting with a critical lane violation, on the next possession. Santa Clara's Travis Niesen made the first free throw and missed the second - but Ray was whistled for the violation (as had Curtis Sumpter, earlier in the contest). Niesen, given another chance, made the second - costing Villanova a crucial point that may very well have made the difference in such a tight game.

Santa Clara nearly put the game away when Patrick escaped defenders and went in for a slam dunk with less than 30 seconds remaining, putting the Broncos up by five, 47-42. Ray countered with a three with just 17.5 seconds remaining, giving the 'Cats new life. Villanova called timeout to set up its defense. Think about it- how often does that tactic actually yield tangible results? (It's the right move, of course, but it usually doesn't pay dividends.) But this time it did - Santa Clara, perhaps suffering from early-season jitters - THREW the inbounds pass away! Villanova was awarded possession with just 16.8 seconds to play, down 47-45.

Foye managed to draw a foul, and hit two clutch free throws with 7.3 seconds to go to knot the game at 47. When Bailey's shot at the buzzer went awry, we were headed to OT.

Overtime was somewhat anticlimactic. While I have no hard evidence to back this up, it seems that the team that FORCES overtime usually isn't successful in it. One reason might be that they use up all of their emotional reserves and adrenaline in forcing overtime, and they are spent. Another might be is that the trailing team is usually the inferior team in talent, and the superior team benefits by extending the game as long as possible, allowing the talent to shine through. Fortunately, in this case the theory didn't hold.

There wasn't much scoring in overtime - which is not surprising in light of how little scoring there was in regulation (the teams had combined for less than 100 points). Nobody scored until a minute and a half had passed, when Mike Nardi scored to give 'Nova its first lead since early in the first half. And nobody scored again, until less than two minutes remained in OT. Nardi was fouled and added two free throws, extending the 'Nova advantage to 51-47. On the next possession, Santa Clara finally got on the board in the extra session, when Bailey hit a two pointer (what would have been a three pointer, except for the experimental three-point arc) to make it 51-49.

'Nova kept grimly hanging on, but couldn't score. Santa Clara finally broke through, taking possession after a timeout with 23 seconds left, and Bailey laid in a shot to retie the game at 51 with just 10.8 seconds remaining. A second overtime appeared imminent. (Nobody wanted to win.)

Villanova would have the last chance to win it in the first overtime. Ray missed a shot, but Sumpter hauled down the rebound and drew a foul with 2.3 seconds remaining. The sophomore delivered, draining both. Santa Clara still had life, though, since the Broncos still had a timeout. They huddled, and got the ball to half-court. But the desperation heave failed, and the Wildcats walked off the court triumphant. Final - Villanova 53, Santa Clara 51.

In the course of a long season, good teams need to win games that they don't deserve to win. This game appeared to be the 'Cats' most ragged effort of their four games thus far. It was profoundly illogical to crush Temple and lose to Chaminade, but all of these things tend to even out in the long run. Villanova outplayed Chaminade but managed to fall short in the end, and the 'Cats turned the tables and did the same to Santa Clara today. Also, obviously, it's tough playing with just six guys. (Only Foye, Ray, Nardi, Sheridan, Sumpter and Claxton saw action today.) Fortunately, the suspensions will all be behind 'Nova soon and we'll see what this team can do at full strength.

Monday, November 24, 2003

A Blue Hawaii for Villanova: Maui Invitational Host, Division II Member Chaminade Silverswords Upset Wildcats, 52-49

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

The Lahaina Center in Maui, Hawaii, the host floor for the Maui Invitational, has seen one of the greatest triumphs in Villanova's illustrious history, the 1995 victory over a North Carolina squad featuring the likes of Vince Carter and Antawn Jamieson. Unfortunately, it will now have to share that distinction with one of the program's more embarrassing defeats. The Division II Silverswords shocked Villanova, 52-49, in a breakfast-time game (9 AM tip-off, Maui time) today.

It was Chaminade's first victory in the Maui Classic since 1992, and only its fourth in the 20-year history of the tournament, against 46 losses. The Silverswords had dropped thirty Maui Classic games in a row, prior to today. (Chaminade, best known for its 1982 victory over #1 Virginia and Ralph Sampson, parlayed that exposure into the creation of the Maui Classic, now officially the EA Sports Maui Invitational.) Chaminade's last victory in this tournament came on December 23, 1992, against Stanford. The 'Cats had led by 43-35 with 9:03 to go, and seemed to be in control. But Chaminade rallied to outscore 'Nova 17-6 the rest of the way and pull off the stunning upset.

Allan Ray led the Wildcats (2-1 overall, 2-0 vs. Div. I opponents) with 19 points, while Randy Foye chipped in 12 points, and Chris Charles added eight points, twelve rebounds, and five blocks. For Chaminade (1-0), Roy Stigall III led with 14 points while playing all 40 minutes. Sam Henning had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Kashif Reyes (who hails from Reading, PA) also reached double figures with 10 points, including a big three down the stretch. Villanova will play its second game in Maui at 4 PM EST on Tuesday (11 AM in Maui), against Santa Clara.

It's been quite a while since Villanova has lost to a non-Division I opponent. (It's difficult to determine because schools move up and down between classifications as the years go by.) The most recent non-Division I loss that I can find was during the 1985-86 season, the third game after the miraculous national title. Rollie Massimino's Wildcats were blown out at Lamar, 78-59, on November 26, 1985. (Lamar is currently Division I, but probably was not at the time.)

While the magnitude of the defeat is mitigated somewhat by Villanova's skeleton roster, that will be of little comfort come Selection Sunday, if the Wildcats are on the bubble. The NCAA is not likely to cut them a break, given that the skeleton roster came as a result of a NCAA violation. Fortunately, games against non-Division I teams don't count in the RPI (for the simple reason that there aren't enough of those games for the NCAA to bother doing all of the extra calculations), so Villanova will escape on that score - but this defeat will be noted and held against them on Selection Sunday.

In this tournament, Villanova will have to contend with a couple of experimental rules. The NCAA prefers to use the holiday tournaments as a laboratory, experimenting with various permutations of current rules. (Some of you may remember back in 1999-2000, when they decided to experiment with letting a fouled team keep the ball on the side, rather than being forced to take foul shots. Villanova benefited from this, being able to salt away a Hawaii victory over Wake Forest by never being forced to defend the lead at the line. Naturally, the rule was never implemented in regular season play.) This year, the experimental rules involve standardization of the three-point line and lane to international dimensions: i.e., moving the three-point arc back nine inches and using a wider, trapezoid-shaped lane. In a three-point loss, the lane expansion might very well have made the difference. A wider lane will generally help the smaller team, in this case Chaminade, as the big men can't hover as close to the basket.

Chaminade started out the game on fire, rocketing out to a 10-2 lead, less than five minutes into the contest. Villanova really scuffled during the first half, shorthanded. The Wildcats had trouble overcoming Chaminade's tenacious man-to-man defense, and could never develop much of a rhythm. The Wildcats got hit with ten personal fouls, and the frequent whistles meant that play was choppy and didn't flow easily.

Despite these disadvantages, the Wildcats painstakingly constructed a 18-12 lead at the 8:35 mark, the under-12 minute TV timeout coming late (during a rare span when there were no whistles). But the Silverswords came back with a vengeance, spending the last 8:35 of the half on a 16-2 run. They reclaimed the lead at 21-20 with 2:19 to play on a triple by Stigall, and went into the locker room celebrating a 28-20 lead over the Main Liners. In the first half, Villanova had exploited its relative size advantage, blocking seven shots - although the aggressive contesting of shots was the chief reason for the foul trouble. Will Sheridan and Chris Charles each finished the half with two fouls.

In the second half, Villanova seemed to feel more comfortable, and the Wildcats' shots began dropping: during the first six and a half minutes of the second stanza, Villanova went on a 12-4 run, keyed by three buckets from Foye. The score thus stood at 32 all, and the Wildcats appeared to have overcome their initial obstacles - their talent superiority was beginning to assert itself. Chaminade did pick up some momentum when Ray picked up his second and third fouls within ten seconds, the latter coming at the 11:52 mark and Chaminade holding a 35-34 advantage.

However, Ray stayed on the floor (coach Jay Wright could hardly afford to take him out), and helped 'Nova run out to its first lead in a while. After acquiring those fouls, Villanova outscored Chaminade 9-0 over the next three minutes or so - with seven of the points coming from Ray. The last three came on a triple with 9:03 to play, putting the Wildcats up 43-35, their high-water mark for the game.

Unfortunately, Chaminade kept chipping away at the lead, whittling it down to 44-41 at the 5:32 mark. Sheridan picked up his fourth foul against Henning underneath with 4:49 to go. Although Henning missed both free throws, it still hurt because Sheridan had to curtail his aggressiveness considerably the rest of the way.

Villanova's last hurrah came at 2:35, when Ray hit another basket to make it 46-41. At that point, the Wildcats crumbled, permitting Chaminade to run off eight unanswered points in only 51 seconds. The key play of the game, in retrospect:

With 'Nova clinging to a 46-44 lead, with less than two minutes to play, an errant Chaminade shot bounced crazily around, finally heading to Reyes. Nardi mistakenly (and understandably) thought that Reyes wasn't his man and left him, to cover another Silversword who did NOT have the ball. Reyes - undoubtedly thrilled at the uncontested shot - calmly drained a three to put Chaminade up 47-46 - and as it turned out, for good. As it went through the hoop, the small, pro-Chaminade crowd went crazy at the prospect of an upset over the Big East program.

Wright expertly managed the last 1:44, giving the Wildcats every opportunity to try to steal the game back. Unfortunately, the Wildcats just couldn't find the hoop. And give Chaminade credit: the Silverswords made five of six free throws in that span to ice the game. Nor were they easy shots. All six foul shots came on one-and-one opportunities - and for the Silverswords, these were arguably the biggest free throws of their careers.

Foye was forced to foul with 50.3 seconds to go, after 'Nova failed to score - Chaminade's Henning made both ends of the one-and-one, giving the Silverswords a 49-46 lead. Sheridan managed to make one of two free throws on the next possession, cutting the lead to 49-47 with 32.4 to go - but best of all, Villanova successfully rebounded the miss, giving Wright a chance to call timeout with the ball, trailing by two with 26.1 to play. But 'Nova would never score again - Nardi turned the ball over, trying to drive the lane on the next possession. After being fouled immediately, Chaminade's Reyes again completed a one-and-one with 13.9 seconds to go, giving them a 51-47 lead. With Chaminade playing cautious defense, Chris Charles converted a semi-contested layup with 6.8 seconds remaining, cutting it to 51-49. After being fouled, Stigall hit the first free throw (the REALLY pressure-packed one), but missed the second, giving the 'Cats life. It was still a one-possession game. But Foye's three-point attempt, coming with less than three seconds left, was off the mark, sending the 'Cats down to defeat.

I wouldn't panic, though. Let's face it, the 'Cats had been laughing uproariously in the face of the basketball Grim Reaper thus far this season. They crushed Temple in a game in which - on paper - they had no business even being competitive, let alone winning in a blowout. Less than 36 hours later, they had to travel to California, play a game at 10 AM local time against a Division III opponent on its home floor with its fans and students screaming. And not just any Division III opponent - one that loves to run up and down the floor and score 100 points a contest. And then fly to Hawaii, and play at 9 AM against another lowly opponent whose season (and college legacy) would be made by a victory. And do all of the above with a shorthanded roster, the composition of which fluctuates from game to game, using some players that had never played a minute of college basketball, others who had played only negligible ones. The basketball gods were bound to catch up with them eventually.

Villanova did not play especially badly. (I've seen them - in situations with far more talented and experienced players - play a hell of a lot worse than they did today.) They weren't particularly sloppy and they didn't commit outrageous mistakes. The Wildcats shot a respectable 43% from the floor, while holding the Silverswords to 35%. The 'Cats committed 18 turnovers, but (for better or worse) that's not historically unusual. They just played like what they are- a bunch of remarkably inexperienced players. The Wildcats' entire team consisted of freshmen and sophomores. Only Foye and Ray had any meaningful experience. Chris Charles basically hasn't played basketball in over a year: he redshirted last year, and he didn't even play that much during his true freshman season in 2001-02. (For that matter, his high school career was truncated when his Milwaukee high school abruptly disbanded its program.) Mike Claxton played 14 minutes last season. And when you're forced to play with really inexperienced players, often you will lose.

So the fact that they lost to a Chaminade team which was - to put it mildly - highly motivated, under extraordinarily arduous logistical circumstances, isn't anything to be too upset about. These games are the biggest of the season to a Chaminade player, and for the Wildcats it's just another game on the schedule. Granted, it would have been nice to have pulled victory from the jaws of defeat and have the game just be a footnote, but it didn't work out that way.

Hopefully, the 'Cats can turn it around tomorrow.

Go Wildcats!

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Jet-lagged Villanova Wildcats Jump Over Redlands, 114-103

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

Villanova continued its remarkably surreal odyssey with yet another victory on Saturday, its second in about 36 hours, but separated by three time zones. After spotting the University of Redlands - a Division III school - a couple of 10-point leads in the first half, the Wildcats roared back to blow open the game in the second half and win easily, 114-103 - the 'Cats scored 65 points in the second half. Allan Ray shattered his career-high, blasting Redlands for 38 points, while Derek Flegal led the Bulldogs with 26. The Wildcats were once again forced to use a shortened bench, playing only seven guys - but all six players who scored set career highs in scoring.

Villanova improved to 2-0 overall in the young season. The Wildcats, fresh after crushing Temple, 73-48, in the wee hours of Thursday night/Friday morning, had crashed at an airport hotel before hopping on a plane to LA on Friday morning.

The Wildcats continue their journey by flying immediately to Maui, where they will return to action against the host of the Maui Classic, the Chaminade Silverswords, at 2 PM Monday (Philadelphia time).

Redlands, located in southern California, about 65 miles outside Los Angeles - plays a highly unorthodox - but intellectually interesting - style: a strict platoon system. Coach Gary Smith shuttles in entire teams of five players, hoping to overwhelm opponents with sheer numbers, and plays a highly uptempo, exciting style, packed with sprints and three-point attempts. They routinely score and allow over a hundred points a contest.

This could have spelled trouble for Villanova today, as its suspension-shortened lineup was in no position to engage in a run-and-gun battle in the Old West, even against a Division III opponent. The game was on Redlands' home floor as well, Currier Gymnasium, a 800-seat bandbox. Obviously, Redlands rarely gets the opportunity to face Division I opponents, and even less often has the chance to face them on their home floor, with their own students in attendance. So this was a dangerous contest for Villanova in a lot of ways.

Villanova did catch a break by insisting on the 10 AM Pacific time tip-off (demanded in order to permit the Wildcats to be back on a plane to Hawaii as quickly as possible), and the hungover students took a while to pack Currier to the rafters. But as the game wore on - even as Redlands' fortunes waned - you could hear, on the radio broadcast, the cheers growing exponentially louder.

(Most atypical cheer: at garbage time, with Villanova in control, 112-101, the crowd began chanting overrated," since the Bulldogs had more than held their own with the Wildcats. They had actually led for a good part of the first half, as well as building a seven point lead early in the second half.)

Villanova trailed by as much as ten in the first half, but Allan Ray finally gave the 'Cats their first lead at the 6:15 mark. The lead seesawed for the remainder of the half, with the Bulldogs clinging to a one-point lead at halftime. Will Sheridan was perfect from the floor at halftime, having gone 7-7 with frequent dunks.

The teams continued to battle toe-to-toe for the first seven minutes of the second half, with Redlands gaining the upper hand. Around the 14:00 mark, Redlands led 71-64, the swelling crowd was really getting enthusiastic, and the Bulldogs seemed to have all of the momentum. Then Randy Foye - one of only two experienced players Villanova had, along with Ray - picked up his third and fourth fouls in quick succession, within 30 seconds. Coach Jay Wright was forced to remove him, and the Wildcats seemed to be in trouble.

But 'Nova came back, outscoring Redlands 44-21 over the next nine minutes or so, and building a lead which eventually peaked at 108-92 with just under four minutes to play. After Foye went to the bench, the 'Cats scored eight quick points to reclaim the lead at 72-71. Then an unusual series of events occurred, illustrating the clash of cultures between Division I and Division III:

This game was probably (although I'm not 100% certain) officiated by Division III officials in California. When Division I teams play cupcakes, usually one of the stipulations is that the game be officiated by officials from the big school's conference (which naturally works to its advantage). However, due to the unusual circumstances under which this game was scheduled, Redlands probably won the right to select the officials.

Smith decided that he wanted a timeout, to switch five-man platoons - but he didn't actually want the timeout itself. He just wanted to stop play to sub, but didn't want play delayed in order to give the outnumbered Wildcats a chance to rest. There seemed to be some confusion as to whether he was allowed to do this, and the officials finally decided to let him do it- but then also decided that since it was the first whistle under 12 minutes, that the official media timeout should come, thus nullifying what Smith was trying to accomplish. That isn't the correct rule: team-called timeouts don't count as whistles for the purpose of triggering TV timeouts. From that, I speculate that they were D-III officials, who usually don't have to deal with those rules (since few D-III games have radio or TV coverage) and assume that's why they weren't applied correctly, initially. (Also: in the first half, coach J had to correct an official who tried to force Villanova to wait until AFTER the TV timeout to shoot free throws, explaining that this wasn't the rule.) This led the Villanova radio broadcast to cut away to a commercial. After the timeout, broadcasters Whitey Rigsby and Steve Pinone explained that the officials had-correctly - decided to overrule their initial ruling, give Smith his perfunctory timeout and then immediately resumed play. (They then valiantly explained what had gone on in the last minute and a half or so while the broadcast had been off the air.)

After all the dust had settled from the timeouts, Villanova began pulling away. By the time the next radio timeout came (without incident) with less than eight minutes to play, 'Nova had built a solid 89-81 lead, which they never relinquished. When play resumed, 'Nova scored nine consecutive points to make it 98-81 with about six minutes to go, effectively ending the game. And they did it all without Foye, who sat on the bench for a long time - until Sheridan made it 100-84 by nailing an alley-oop.

Redlands managed to creep back to 108-98, after Baker Dunleavy committed a foul on a three-point shooter with about 3:27 to go. But they drew no closer. With 2:17 to play, trailing 112-98, Smith tried the same tactic with a timeout, taking it to sub but nothing else - but Jay Wright countered by simply taking the timeout himself, immediately after. The final ended up as 114-103. (To their credit, Redlands didn't try to prolong the inevitable by fouling, and instead, just let the game take its course.)

Villanova shot an outstanding 64% from the floor, and recorded 30 assists on 47 field goals. Four Wildcats had double-doubles:

Ray had a career-high 38 points and 11 rebounds on 17-24 shooting; Foye posted a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds; Sheridan got his Villanova career off to a rollicking start, in only his second game, with a career-high 23 points and 17 rebounds on sizzling 11-12 shooting, many of which were uncontested; finally, fellow freshman Mike Nardi had 19 points and 13 assists for the first double-double of his young career. A number worth noting for Redlands: the Bulldogs took no fewer than 64 (!) three-point attempts- and they made 24, a highly respectable 37.5%.

The Wildcats have thus far gotten off to a stirring start with two victories with their skeleton roster. (Some thought should be given to playing with just seven guys all year...) The 'Cats will receive another opportunity to defy the odds with the game against Chaminade on Monday, with yet another quick turnaround, little time to savor the victory, and another long plane ride (just as with Temple earlier this week).

Go Wildcats!

Friday, November 21, 2003

Midnight Tip-Off Doesn't Help Temple Owls, As Villanova Wildcats Thrash Them, 73-48

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

In one of the most unusual games in Big Five history - in background, timing and outcome - Villanova shocked the Temple Owls, 73-48, early Friday morning at the Liacouras Center, with Allan Ray and Randy Foye leading the way with 20 points apiece. For Temple, David Hawkins led with 16 points, while Dustin Salisbery was also impressive, scoring 13 points.

It was both the City Series and regular season opener for both teams. In an extremely competitive rivalry, the lopsided margin was stunning: the 25 point advantage was Villanova's largest margin of victory over Temple in 21 years. It marked the Wildcats' first-ever victory at Temple's gleaming building - they fell there in 1999 and in the 2002 NIT quarterfinals. The game was unusual for two reasons:

  1. First and foremost, the game was played at the witching hour, due to scheduling conflicts between the two schools, stemming from the aftermath of last year's phone code suspensions. Tip-off came just after midnight and the buzzer went off at 1:45 AM. Radio broadcaster Ryan Fannon signed off his post-game show at 2:12 AM (and sounded as if he wouldn't have minded staying on the air till 6 AM).
  2. Due to the aforementioned suspensions, Villanova had only nine players, including:
  • - two freshmen (Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan)
  • - four walkons (Tom Grace, Ross Condon, Baker Dunleavy, and Mike Claxton);
  • - a redshirt freshman (Baker Dunleavy);

Basically, only Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Curtis Sumpter had meaningful basketball experience, of Jay Wright's entire squad last night- in other words, a trio of SOPHOMORES were Villanova's veterans last night. The other six players had played 14 minutes, combined, all from Claxton. (Jason Fraser dressed for the game but had a boot on, and so he couldn't have played, even if it had been necessary.)

c) City Series games have been played at a wide assortment of venues over the years, and under some fairly bizarre circumstances, but the circumstances of Friday morning's game will rank up there with any of them. And people were stoked about the game - the novelty of the tip time and the nocturnal nature of college students both contributing greatly to the huge crowd. Temple nearly sold out the game and the building was packed with partisans of both squads.

This was Villanova's second straight win over Temple and its third in four tries. The last time the Wildcats devastated the Owls so decisively was on December 18, 1982, at the Palestra. 'Nova triumphed 82-55 in that contest.

It would have been an impressive victory even if Villanova had been playing at full strength. To win at Temple by such a rout - playing with three sophomores and six guys with no college basketball experience - is nothing short of incredible - nearly miraculous, in fact. Undoubtedly, Temple coach John Chaney felt the same way. (His players are going to have a rough day/night: I cannot imagine how unpleasant it must be to have Chaney upset with you at 2 AM, which is undoubtedly WAY past his bedtime and he's already pretty cranky, even when his team isn't upset by a skeleton crew at home. He might have ordered them just to practice right after the game and go straight through to his normal, infamous 6 AM practice.)

And it was a genuine ROUT. Not all 25 point victories are created equal - sometimes, one team just blows it open in the second half. In this case, Villanova breezed to victory from the opening tip. Temple wasn't even remotely competitive, from the time of tip-off till the final buzzer. Temple not only never led, it never even managed a tie beyond 3-3.

Give Jay Wright credit. Due to his short bench and lack of available talent, he was forced to use a zone defense to conserve his players. Wright has shown a distaste for zone; the Wildcats nearly always play man-to-man. Even last year, in similar situations against Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Siena, he played zone - but not anywhere near as much as he did tonight.

And Temple simply had no answer for it. 'Nova stayed in zone for the entire game and strangled Temple's offense. Granted, the Owls were hampered by the unavailability of Keith Butler, who was out with an ankle injury, but his absence can hardly account for such a wipeout.

Villanova shot a blistering 61% (26-43) from the floor, while holding Temple to a pathetic 27% (19-70) from the floor. (There is some inconsistency in game statistics from different sources. The numbers used here are those provided immediately after the contest, which differ from the ESPN box score numbers.) 'Nova shot a fantastic 50% (9-18) from three-point range while Temple was an anemic 25% (10-40) from beyond the arc. A really odd disparity: 'Nova took 18 free throws, making 12; Temple took two the entire game and missed both.

In addition to the stellar performances by Ray and Foye, Curtis Sumpter (14 points) and Mike Nardi (11 points) also reached double figures. It was a highly auspicious debut for the freshman Nardi, who navigated the tough Temple defense as if he'd been doing it for years. In his collegiate debut, Nardi dealt seven assists, against only two turnovers.

Foye, Ray, Nardi, Sumpter and freshman Will Sheridan were the starting five for the Wildcats, and they played the overwhelming majority of the minutes - all but 13 of the 200. Mike Claxton logged 10 minutes, while Baker Dunleavy, Tom Grace and Ross Condon each saw a single minute of action.

The game opened with Nardi's first-ever shot as a Wildcat - a successful three-pointer! It was an omen of things to come.

It took the 'Cats a little while to pull away - they held only a modest 6-5 lead at the under-16 minute timeout, at 15:25. But the Wildcats quickly embarked on a 12-3 run, giving them a solid lead which they never relinquished. A Ray triple and a Foye pull-up jumper gave the Wildcats a 18-8 lead in the early going, forcing Chaney to call a timeout at around the 11:15 mark. At that point, 'Nova had made seven of 11 shots and Temple only 3 of 12 - and the trend continued throughout the game.

Temple crawled back to 21-17 on a bucket by Hawkins, but they never drew any closer. One big play happened near the end of the first half - with 'Nova leading 29-19, Ray went in for what should have been a dunk, but Hawkins made an extraordinary defensive effort and snuffed him, arguably committing a foul. The Temple fans went nuts at the sight, but the officials awarded 'Nova a foul, costing the Owls some badly needed momentum. At the half, 'Nova held a strong 32-22 lead and were in complete control. At that point, Sumpter led all Villanova scorers with eight points, including six from the line. Hawkins led Temple with 10.

To begin the second half, Salisbery drained a three, cutting the 'Nova lead to seven. But that was the ONLY time in the second half that Temple was even within double-digits. Villanova responded with a swift 10-0 run which effectively ended the game. Foye and Ray hit back-to-back threes, and Ray followed it up with a bucket, forcing Temple to call another timeout, trailing 40-25 with 18:21 to play. Coming out of the timeout, the Owls committed a shot clock violation (something which should almost never happen immediately after a timeout). Nardi added a basket to extend the lead to 17.

At this point, the Owls showed their desperation, switching from the trademark zone to man-to-man - something they only do if they're behind by a lot in the second half. It didn't help - Villanova's lead kept ballooning. With around 2:14 to go, Nardi fed Sumpter for a spectacular alley-oop dunk, putting 'Nova up 67-45 and eliciting a huge cheer from the Villanova fans.

And even when Wright emptied his bench in the last two minutes, sending in Dunleavy, Grace and Condon, the lead kept GROWING. The dunk put 'Nova up by 22; the 'Cats ended up winning by 25 in the final tally, their largest lead of the game. Dunleavy was actually able to score two points, Grace hit one of two free throws, and Condon grabbed a rebound. Claxton, who played 10 minutes, managed a free throw as well.

All of the Wildcats were superb. While Sheridan didn't fill up the stat sheet as colorfully as his teammates, he had a strong debut game as well, playing all 40 minutes, scoring four points, grabbing three rebounds and dealing two assists. Foye had a double-double, hauling down ten boards to go with his 20 points.

Unfortunately, it's only the beginning of this road trip and the Wildcats and their coaching staff won't have much time to savor the unexpected victory. They are flying to LA on Friday, doing battle with the Division III University of Redlands (65 miles outside LA), on Saturday morning at 10 AM West Coast time. And that game will not be a slow affair: Redlands likes to run and score 100 points a game. After that game, they head out to Hawaii for three games in the Maui Classic, which begins on Monday.

In summary, it was about THE best possible game that Villanova could have played, under these circumstances. I can't imagine a single aspect of the game, that I would have changed. Hopefully, it will be a harbinger of many other positive outcomes this season.

Go Wildcats!