by Craig Dimitri
After making it look easy for the first 10 games, the #3 Wildcats have fishtailed across the Big East highway over the last four days. Villanova had been perfect, launching the team's best start since 1962, but fell to #24 West Virginia on Sunday. And on Wednesday night, the mediocre Rutgers Scarlet Knights forced the Wildcats into overtime, before the 'Cats escaped back down the New Jersey Turnpike with a 84-78 victory.
Villanova improved to 2-1 Big East, 11-1 overall; Rutgers fell to 1-1 Big East, 11-4 overall. Granted, the RAC (officially the Louis J. Brown Athletic Center) at Rutgers is a very intimidating environment for an opponent, probably the toughest in the conference, other than West Virginia. However, when Villanova arrived at the RAC last year, the Wildcats incinerated the Scarlet Knights by 33 points, in the worst defeat RU had ever suffered there, in the 27 years of the venue's existence.
What was particularly bothersome, was how regulation ended. Allan Ray made two clutch free throws to boost the Wildcats' lead to 70-67 with 19 seconds remaining. Then Jimmie Inglish, a sophomore center and bench player, who had never even attempted a three-point shot in his tenure at RU, managed to bank in a Desperation 3 (and when you have a player like this one, taking a potentially game-tying shot at the buzzer, it really is "Desperation, with a capital D", to paraphrase Dick Vitale). Inglish's shot went in with 2.5 seconds remaining, and the RAC crowd exploding with joy.
Fortunately, the Wildcats were able to restore order in OT, ultimately winning the extra session 14-8 after initially trailing, when RU made two free throws to begin overtime.
On Monday, the new polls were released, and Villanova retained its #3 ranking in both polls, despite the loss to then-#24 West Virginia. The Wildcats will now momentarily step out of Big East competition and fly to the sunnier climes of Austin, Texas, to take on the #9 Longhorns, in a made-for-CBS intersectional contest on Saturday.