Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Villanova Fells Fordham, 68-47, at Pavilion

The Wildcats breezed to a wholly expected, but still reasonably well-played, victory over a hapless, overmatched Fordham Rams squad, 68-47, Tuesday night at the Pavilion. Curtis Sumpter roared for a season-high 20 points - plus 11 boards - to lead the Wildcats' efforts. Randy Foye had a particularly strong game, scoring 17 points, grabbing nine rebounds, dishing four assists and picking up three steals in 34 minutes of action. Jason Fraser came off the bench once again and delivered a powerful performance, scoring 12 points and collecting seven rebounds in just 22 minutes of action. For Fordham, Sebastian Greene was the only player to reach double figures, registering 11 points.

Villanova continued to play relentless defense this season, as Fordham became the third opponent this year to score fewer than 50 points. The Rams were held to just 31% shooting, on 16-51 from the floor, and 21% from beyond the arc on 3-14 shooting.

Fordham was simply never in this game. The Rams were able to muster only 16 points by halftime, trailing by 13, and it was quite obvious that they were not going to return to the Big Apple with a victory. The Wildcats maintained a comfortable double-digit lead throughout the second half and just put it on cruise control. Overall, Villanova shot well from beyond the arc, nailing 5 of 11 shots (45.5%) and also thumped the Rams on the glass, 41-27.

Villanova upped its record to 4-1 overall, while Fordham dropped to 3-4 overall. It was Villanova's third straight game against Atlantic 10 competition: the Wildcats fell to Temple on December 4, before beating another, La Salle, on Saturday - both opponents are Atlantic 10 members. (Villanova will also face defending regular-season champion St. Joseph's at the Palestra in February).

Surprisingly, it was the first meeting of the two geographically close, academically-oriented Catholic schools in over 33 years - since the second round of the 1971 NCAA tournament, when 'Nova won a 85-75 shootout (a lot of points in that pre-shot clock, pre-three-point shot era). Fordham was a powerhouse then; the team was coached by Digger Phelps (now an ESPN analyst) and completed the season with a 26-3 record. The Wildcats would go on to lose to powerful UCLA in the national title game that year. It was also the first scheduled, regular-season meeting since December 1961, when Villanova won 69-48 at Fordham. By winning tonight, Villanova increased its small lead in the all-time series with Fordham to 11-8; the Rams' last victory over the Wildcats came in 1957. Tonight also marked Fordham's first visit to the Main Line campus since 1949 (Villanova hosted them six times at the Palestra between 1949 and 1960.

Ray Watch: The junior guard entered the game just 26 points away from reaching 1,000 points in his Main Line career. Unfortunately, he was constrained by foul trouble. Ray played just 22 minutes, and finished with just five points on 2-4 shooting. He has an outside chance of attaining the milestone on December 22 against Albany, but it seems more likely that it will have to wait until the December 27 contest against Middle Tennessee State. He'll be the first Wildcat to do so, since Ricky Wright reached it in 2002-03. He will be the 46th Wildcat to clear the plateau.

Fraser Watch: On Saturday, the junior center also passed Ricky Wright (79 blocks) for ninth place on the all-time blocks list, and entered the game with 80, needing two blocks to tie Rafal Bigus for eighth place at 82. He passed Biggie easily, swatting four Fordham shots.

Fordham entered the game with a record of 3-3 - which is rather impressive for a program coming off a 6-22 season- and that dismal record was - incredibly - a four-game IMPROVEMENT over their 2002-03 record of 2-26 (not a misprint). They have had three double-digit losses, to Manhattan, Boston University and Holy Cross, none of whom would be described as powers and all of whom belong to lower-tier conferences. But you have to crawl before you can walk when you're rebuilding from 2-26 two years ago. Coach Dereck Whittenburg is in his second season, taking over after the 2-26 debacle. Whittenburg has some basketball lore surrounding him; he was the guy who fed Lorenzo Charles's miracle dunk to win the 1983 national title for N.C. State, shocking Houston's then-Akeem Olajuwon and Phi Slamma Jamma.

The Rams own victories over St. Francis (NY), Iona, and Fairfield, and are capable of launching a high-powered attack, scoring 83 and 84 points in two of those three wins. Against Fairfield, they achieved something which Villanova may never have done in its long, storied history - embark on an incredible, inconceivable 33-0 run! Holding a modest 24-19 lead with 5:37 to play in the first half, they scored the final 22 points of the first half and also the first 11 of the second half, building a shocking 57-19 lead before letting up and winning just 84-68; Fairfield actually won the rest of the game 49-27. However, they were also capable of horrendous offensive performances, as a 53-39 loss to Holy Cross on the Rams' home floor also demonstrated.

The Wildcats will enjoy an eight-day respite for exams, and will return to action against the Albany Great Danes on December 22 at the Pavilion. The Wildcats will be feasting on a five-game stretch of holiday home cooking, as they don't leave the Pavilion again until traveling to Notre Dame on January 8. In that span, they face two more cupcakes (Albany and Middle Tennessee State), one Big Five rival (Pennsylvania), and a Big East squad (West Virginia).

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