by Craig Dimitri
In a rare Sunday night appearance, the #4 Wildcats completed their Thanksgiving feasting with a dessert of Mountain Hawks, at the Pavilion. Villanova consumed Lehigh, 84-47, like an after-dinner mint, and improved its record to 2-0 on the young season.
Incredibly, the final score was deceptively close - to the extent that a 37-point victory can be viewed as "close" (anywhere outside of Temple University football, at least). Villanova actually had a bigger lead in this game, as we shall see below.
Both Allan Ray and the team as a whole, set school records for three-point shooting. Individually, Ray broke the Wildcat record for most threes in a single game, by draining no fewer than eight triples, on 16 attempts. Not surprisingly, Ray had broken his own school record of seven, which he had set on March 2, 2004, against Miami. The senior sharpshooter finished with a game-high 26 points against Lehigh. As a team, the Wildcats set an all-time high for triples, with 17 for the contest.
The previous team high for three-pointers in a single game had been set, in a very memorable game in 1999. On January 7 of that year, Villanova faced Notre Dame in South Bend. Due to a massive snowstorm, the game could not be played at night, and it had to be rescheduled for a weekday afternoon - and the ND student were away on break, to boot. With the game rescheduled for a weekday afternoon, in hte midst of a South-ben-paralyzing snowstroms, there were virtually nofans at the game. Thus, Villanova effectively had a neutral court for this road game. And the Wildcats made the most of the opportunity, pummeling Notre Dame, and the chief reason for the victory was the fact that Villanova set a team record for triples that game, with 16, which had stood for nearly seven years - until tonight, in fact.
In retrospect, that game was probably the catalyst for the 1999's team's overachievement, reaching the NCAA tournament as a #8 seed and losing by just two points to #9 Mississippi in the first round in Milwaukee. Although nobody knew it at the time, obviously, it would be Villanova's only NCAA appearance, during the seven seasons which spanned from 1998 to 2004.]
In a neat historical touch, Ray's record-setting 8th triple was also the team-record-setting 17th, which came with about 6 minutes to play and rendered the score 80-36 (a 44-point advantage, easily doubling up the other team's total with plenty of room to spare). With Wright properly and mercifully emptying his bench, Lehigh managed to win the remainder of the game, 11-4, and avoided being doubled (so at least they had that fact, to point to afterwards, as a scrap of positive news.)
Coach Jay Wright won his 200th career game, counting both his previous tenure at Hofstra, as well as Villanova. Wright spent the seven seasons from 1994-95 through 2000-01 there, and compiled an overall record of 122-85. (Although the more revealing statistic was that his final three years there, using players whom he had recruited, he went 72-22, reaching the NIT in his fifth year and two NCAA tournaments in years six and seven.)
This was Wright's 78th victory on the Main Line, against 54 defeats. But at the current pace, he'll be at 100 Villanova victories by the end of the season. The 'Cats need to win at least 24 games this season to get him to the century mark, but given that last year's team won 24, and this year's team should be better, it's very doable. As for 200 Villanova victories - that's for the end of the decade, with some consistent 20+ win seasons. All in all, this game against Lehigh, will - clearly - be among the easiest that he's ever had, in compiling his 200 victories.
Lehigh had no ability to stop the four-guard strategy employed by Wright, as Ray's fellow three guards all had outstanding games as well. Senior Randy Foye finished with 21 points (including five triples), junior Mike Nardi with 14 points (including three triples), and sophomore Kyle Lowry had an even dozen. Jose Olivero led the Mountain Hawks with 15 points.
Villanova improved its record to 2-0 on the young season, and has outscored its two hapless opponents by a total of 162-82: nearly doubling up the overmatched opposition. This was already Lehigh's sixth game of the season (and we haven't even entered December yet), and the Mountain Hawks plummeted to 2-4.
Villanova now leads the all-time series, 9-3. Tonight's meeting was only the second since the 1948 season, despite the relative geographical proximity of the schools (the only other modern one came in December 1992, at the Pavilion). The series goes all the way back to January 12, 1924, when host Lehigh defeated the Wildcats, 31-19. However, Lehigh hasn't won since 1942.
Rank And File
The Wildcats are currently ranked #4. It is Villanova's highest ranking in nearly a decade. The last Top Five ranking for the Wildcats came in the salad days of the mid-1990s, when teams led by Kerry Kittles, Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams (and for a single year, Tim Thomas) Villanova took up seemingly permanent residence in the Top 25: in fact, often the Top 10.
Villanova's Rankings This Season
After last season's Sweet 16 run, ending with a controversial loss to the eventual champion, North Carolina, the Wildcats ended the season at #13 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, and #19 in the Associated Press poll.
Week 1 - Nov. 7-13 - #5 (1) AP/#4 (1) ESPN/USAToday
AP: #5 ranking (one 1st-place vote), 1,413 points
ESPN/USA Today: #4 ranking (one 1st-place vote), 644 points
Week 2 - Nov. 14-20 (temporarily unavailable, but unlikely unchanged from #5/#4 in both polls, since 'Nova had one lopsided victory to its credit)
Week 3 - Nov. 21-27 - #4 (1) AP/#4 ESPN/USA Today
AP: #4 ranking (one 1st-place vote), 1,474 points
ESPN/USA Today: #4 ranking, 650 points