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.

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