To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-
Santa brought a late Christmas gift to the Villanova faithful on Sunday, as
the Wildcats closed out 2003 against UNC-Greensboro at the Pavilion, on an
unseasonably warm December afternoon. The heat wasn't just outside the building,
however; the Wildcats annihilated UNCG in a highly entertaining contest,
84-63, in the first-ever meeting between the schools. It was the kind of
satisfying holiday victory which always brightens the Christmas spirit of the Villanova fan. The game was punctuated throughout by frequent crowd-pleasing dunks,
chiefly from Curtis Sumpter and Randy Foye, who each finished with 23 points.
'Nova improved to 8-2 overall, while the Spartans fell to 4-7 overall. In an
otherwise disastrous afternoon for the Spartans, Ronnie Burrell led their
squad with 21 points on outstanding 10-14 shooting (many of them from short
range); he was quite a force, especially in the first half (and he added seven
rebounds, to boot). With a trio of victories over Northeastern, Columbia, and
UNCG over the last two weeks or so, Villanova has now completed the regretfully
brief cupcake portion of the schedule. They must now resume tangling with
genuine competition come 2004: a trip to national powerhouse Kansas (the defending
NCAA runner-up), on national television, comes at the end of the week. But
coach Jay Wright and his staff must have been tremendously satisfied with not
just the outcome, but the awesome firepower the 'Cats displayed in dismantling
the Spartans. Granted, UNCG was coming off a brutal Missouri/Maryland/Villanova trip, hitting three power-conference schools in one swing, but Villanova dominated this opponent as it hasn't done since the opening night witching-hour victory over Temple, back on November 14.
The game was also noteworthy for the first appearance of Derrick Snowden this
season, plagued by phone-call suspensions and injuries during the first nine
games. Coming off the bench, Snowden played ten solid, if unspectacular
minutes (and emphatically demonstrated his return by - in that brief spell -
getting called for that hook he frequently uses to get past an opponent).
It's unusual to have a game when one team is NEVER in the game, but that's
what happened today. From the opening tip-off, UNCG never showed even the
faintest signs of a pulse, even in a game scheduled to permit UNCG's Jay Joseph (a
native of North Wales and graduate of North Penn High School in central
Montgomery County, Pa.) to have a homecoming appearance. Quite the contrary:
Villanova took quick control of the game, rocketing out to a 22-4 lead and never
allowing the lead to slip below 12 points for the balance of the half. (Joseph
had a solid game, in what was undoubtedly one of the few opportunities for his
family and friends to watch him play. He finished with 10 points, two
rebounds and two steals.)
Any thoughts the Spartans may have entertained, regarding a
holiday-hangover-induced upset, were quickly dashed when Ray, Foye and Sumpter hit
back-to-back-to-back triples in the early going, swelling the early score to 17-4 and
effectively ending the contest before it even got started. The Spartans called a
timeout at the 13:45 mark, immediately after the barrage, to try to pile up
some sandbags - but they were hopelessly ineffective. 'Nova basically had its
way with this team for 40 full minutes, without interruption. And Villanova's
dominance was even more startling, after the ordeal in which they had to
engage to get past old buddy Joe Jones and Columbia on Monday night.
When the teams returned from the timeout, Mike Nardi added another triple,
followed by a two-handed dunk from Sumpter (fed to him by Snowden), pushing the
lead to 22-4 and UNCG into a deep abyss, out of which it never returned. They
would NEVER get the lead down to single digits, for the rest of the game.
With about 5-6 minutes left in the first half, the Spartans hit what passed for
their high-water mark, chipping the deficit down to 12 twice, thanks to a
two-handed dunk from Burrell which made it 30-18 (and a Ray Bristow basket got it
to 32-20 shortly after). But that was as close as they ever got. Even that
relatively competitive score didn't last long, as Sumpter scored four quick
points around the four minute mark to boost the lead back to 17, 38-21, and
Villanova's lead hovered in that range for most of the game. For only the second
time all year, Villanova can claim an unadulterated rout of an opponent (and
ironically, the routs have come against Temple on the road, shorthanded - and
the strongest of the three cupcake opponents at home).
'Nova wrapped up the first half in style, taking a commanding 47-28 lead into
the locker room and leaving the Pavilion faithful far more contented at
intermission than they had been in a long, long time. Sumpter was simply a monster
in the opening half, scoring 19 of his 23 points on 8-12 shooting and
grabbing five boards. Buoyed by the sophomore forward, Villanova shot a strong 47%
from the floor for the half.
Unfortunately, the second half wasn't as cool as the first - which had moved
smoothly and with a minimum of turnovers and fouls on both sides. With both
teams having recognized that the game was effectively over, the quality of play
began to deteriorate during what amounted to an entire HALF of garbage time.
Nonetheless, Villanova clearly played strong five-man basketball on Sunday
afternoon, something of a lost art in the contemporary college game. 'Nova
finished with 16 assists on 29 baskets, reflecting wise passing and unselfish play.
The Wildcats' lead continued to mount through the second half, after they had
led by 19 at halftime. UNCG kept pace through the first five minutes, after
play resumed, but the difficulties of playing from behind began to wear on
them (they weren't tired, as they constantly ran out a full array of
substitutes). The most significant sequence took place around the nine minute mark.
Foye, with an unimpeded lane to the hoop, uncharacteristically decided to stuff
the ball in two-handed fashion, and the 'Cats eased up a bit in admiration - and
they now enjoyed a 22 point lead at 68-46. Unfortunately, Burrell seized the
opportunity 'Nova had given him, and immediately went down the other way for
an uncontested dunk of his own. Coach Wright was not pleased with this
development and called timeout, something which you ordinarily don't do with your
own team cruising with a big lead, in order to convey his displeasure to his
At the 4:49 mark, Foye went in for another dunk, which gave 'Nova its largest
lead of the game, at 28 (80-52). Fortunately, UNCG did not reply with an
uncontested dunk at the other end, this time. The rest of the way was
undistinguished, with the exception of Sumpter's departure at the 1:23 mark (he was
lauded by the crowd for his 23 points). Kudos go out to Ross Condon, who made a
cameo along with teammates Tom Grace, Baker Dunleavy and Mike Claxton near the
buzzer. However, Condon managed to score Villanova's final two points during
his brief time on the court, and it left the score 84-63.
As noted, Snowden saw action sparingly, but it was a step in the right
direction. In contrast, Jason Fraser, due to his ongoing injuries, did not see
action at all. Marcus Austin and Andreas Bloch saw limited action, combining for
13 minutes. The bench was the only area in which UNCG bested 'Nova, as the
Spartans' bench racked up 17 points to Villanova's 10.
The Wildcats' next big challenge will come at #12 Kansas on Friday night, at
Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, one of college basketball's most
storied and frenzied venues. A victory would be a VERY impressive