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!

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