Friday, March 03, 2006

No Chance at #1: #2 Villanova Falters in Bid to Sweep #4 Huskies, 89-75, in Storrs

By Craig Dimitri

It was #2 Villanova’s first trip to #4 Connecticut’s on-campus home, Gampel Pavilion, since 1995, when the Kerry Kittles/Jason Lawson/Alvin Williams nucleus was crushed by the Huskies in that venue.

Regrettably, Villanova’s fortunes at Gampel did not change on Sunday. The events of the weekend, looking at them strictly in the sense of Villanova’s glory, were not positive. On Saturday, Temple hung with #1 Duke for a while but ultimately fell at the Wachovia Center – thus eliminating any possibility that even if Villanova defeated UConn, that the Wildcats could rise to the top spot, for what would have been the first time in regular-season VU’s history.

But Villanova’s play on Sunday rendered Saturday’s results of no consequence, in any event. The Wildcats thudded to a disastrous shooting afternoon, despite the reasonably high number of points scored (75) – ‘Nova was only 34% from the floor, and 30% from beyond the arc. Defensively, the game was a complete disaster, as the Huskies scored 89 points, the second-highest total that the Wildcats have allowed all season. (Only West Virginia scored more – 91 – and not surprisingly, that was also the only other Big East defeat the Wildcats have suffered this season.)

‘Nova trailed just 36-33 at halftime, after freshman Shane Clark made a remarkable, bank-shot three-pointer at the buzzer, and so the contest was well within reach. But Villanova collapsed defensively in the second half, permitting 53 points after intermission (and when that happens, it usually means defeat.) Denham Brown had a game-high 23 points on 8-13 shooting, to lead the Huskies.

For Villanova, Allan Ray led with 19 points, with Randy Foye adding 18 and Mike Nardi 14. Two other Wildcats narrowly missed double-doubles. First, Will Sheridan – following up his heroic feat against Connecticut in the Feb. 13 contest – finished with nine points and 11 rebounds (with 10 of the latter category, on the offensive end). Second, Kyle Lowry finished with nine points, nine rebounds, and four assists. (How does a 6-0 player nearly reach double figures in rebounds? Simply put, Lowry is a remarkable talent.)

The Wildcats dropped to 12-2 Big East, 22-3 overall; it was Villanova’s first defeat, since the aforementioned game against WVU, on January 8. The Huskies improved to 12-2 Big East (matching VU’s record), 25-2 overall.

Of greater concern than the loss, however, was the possibility that Allan Ray may have injured his knee late in the game. MRIs will be taken to determine if there is any injury.

Rank and File

It is to be expected that Villanova will drop back down to #4 – their position prior to the glorious upset over then-#1 Connecticut on Feb. 13. Duke will stay at #1, while the Huskies will probably move up to #2, with Memphis holding steady at #3. But being #4, obviously, is not really anything disappointing.

It appears unlikely that Villanova will get another chance at the top spot during the regular season, particularly since they will now have to leapfrog Duke, Connecticut, and Memphis, and the number of regular-season polls are dwindling rapidly. To have a fighting chance at #1, ‘Nova would probably have to win its final two BE games, win the conference tournament, and have all of the three aforementioned teams lose at least once.. That scenario is conceivable (it’s not ridiculous), but it would be unlikely. So we’ll just have to be satisfied with being at #2 for a week.

The Wildcats return home for Wednesday’s Senior Night, against St. John’s at the Pavilion, where the Villanova faithful will bid farewell to this year’s senior class, which has accomplished so much (and perhaps may take Villanova back to the Final Four).

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