by Craig Dimitri
In a rare Thursday night game (few conferences wish to compete with the temptations of the broadcast networks' top-shelf offerings on Thursday night), #3 Villanova continued its unbeaten season, by coming up with one of the best wins of the Jay Wright era, defeating #9 Louisville (on the road, no less), by the impressive margin of 76-67.
It was Villanova's first test against top-of-the-line competition, as all nine previous games had been played in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey, with the only genuine challenge, coming from the road game at Bucknell. Villanova has now embarked on its best start in over 40 years, since the 1961-62 squad won its first dozen games.
It was the Big East season opener for both teams, but was the inaugural Big East game for Louisville, one of the five new schools to join the bloated 16-team hyperconference this season. Of course, coach Rick Pitino has already been intimately familiar with the premier conference, as his first explosion on the national scene came when he took Providence to the Final Four in 1987.
Randy Foye had a game-high 24 points, while Allan Ray added 17 points, leading the strong Villanova performance. But the most significant contribution came from Jason Fraser, who had 13 points on perfect 6-6 shooting. The Wildcats scooted out to an early 21-9 lead, and didn't need to look back, as they never trailed in the contest.
Villanova improved to 10-0 overall, and Louisville dropped to 10-2. It was the first time the teams had faced each other since the 1996 NCAA tournament. The victory was at least a consolation for longtime Villanova faithful, who vividly remember the 1995-96's team being ousted by Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament on St. Patrick's Day. It was the final game for Kerry Kittles, who completed his stellar career with only one NCAA tournament victory, despite two appearances as a #3 seed in a region. There was no luck for the 'Cats that day, as sharpshooter Eric Eberz had the worst game of his career, and it ultimately sunk the 'Cats' Sweet 16 hopes. Ironically, the Wildcats' current 10-game winning streak is Villanova's longest, since that season a decade ago, when that Kittles/Jason Lawson/Alvin Williams squad won 11 straight.
Villanova will try to tie that mark, when they return to the Pavilion to take on another ranked team, #24 West Virginia, on Sunday.