Sunday, January 28, 2007

'Cats Can't Hold On Down the Stretch, Fall @ #22 Notre Dame, 66-63

by Craig Dimitri

The Wildcats could have virtually secured a bid in the NCAA tournament, with a sweep of #22 Notre Dame, over the course of the past 10 days. Unfortunately, Villanova went cold after building a 60-57 lead down the stretch, allowing a 9-0 Fighting Irish run and falling behind, 66-63. ND tried very hard to give away the game, after leading 66-60 in the final minute, committing three fouls and turning over the ball in the backcourt. As a result, Villanova ended up with a possession - in the Notre Dame half of the court, no less - with 18 seconds left, trailing by just three points. These mistakes thus permitted Curtis Sumpter a perfectly clean look at the top of the key in the final seconds, trailing just 66-63 - but it didn't go down, and ND escaped with a split of the season series. The Wildcats fell to 3-4 Big East, 14-6 overall. Notre Dame improved to 5-3 Big East, 17-4 overall.

Some Highlights of the Game Itself

At around the 9:30 point of the first half – there was a wild fracas after a rebound got loose around midcourt, indicating hustle on both sides.

With a little less than nine minutes to go, Mike Nardi foolishly picks up his second foul, trying to draw a charge on Russell Carter driving down the lane.

Shortly after that, there was an incredibly athletic block by Carter on Will Sheridan's powerful move to the hoop, pinning the ball to the backboard. Fortunately, Villanova retained possession of the ball because Carter was standing on the line when he pinned it. That triggered the under-8-minute TV timeout.

ND tried a press, with Nardi on the bench for a brief spell, but it backfired, with Jackson picking up his second foul trying to draw a charge on Reynolds. He had to stay in the game, however, since Kyle McAlarney, the starting point guard, is under suspension for the semester due to his arrest on marijuana charges in late December. In retrospect, Villanova’s failure to foul out Jackson (he ended the game with just three fouls), was an important lapse.

There was a great steal by Reynolds, picking Carter's pocket, and then Reynolds was tripped on the other end around 6:40, another foul on ND.

Late in the first half, Kurz was whistled for an offensive foul in lane, which nullified a potential traditional 3 point play, as his basket went in. It was the sort of play that is a momentum shifter, and had Villanova won it would have been cited after the game, as such.

Considering the track meet of the first contest at the Pavilion – which ‘Nova won 102-87 - the game was remarkably low-scoring, in the first half. Villanova made only six of its first 25 shots, before a Nardi jumper boosted its lead to 19-16, where it stood at the under-4-minute timeout, at 3:41.

Villanova led 25-21 at halftime. The 21 points represented a season-low for the first half for Notre Dame - the previous low had been the 25 points, they had scored in the first half against Georgetown. For Villanova, Scottie Reynolds had 5 points, shooting 5-6 from the line, but 0-6 from the field. His offensive struggles would continue in the second half. The overall FG% was 27% for VU, 29% for ND; there was an 11-6 edge in offensive rebounds for VU. Falls was the only player on either team in double figures. To place it in context - during the first game at the Pavilion, it was 50-40 VU at halftime.

When play resumed, Wright called a quick timeout, after ND scored the first four points of the 2nd half in just 1:17, with the Wildcats also picking up three quick fouls in that 77 second span. These fouls would prove to be important. The Wildcats did not have the depth to have so many players in foul trouble so early. Moreover, the additional fouls also propelled Notre Dame into the double bonus more quickly – thus giving the Irish more free throws throughout the half. Their advantage in that category would prove to be the difference, in the three-point loss for the Main Liners.

The Joyce Center crowd really got into it at 50-46, after a triple by Carter around 8:46. Reynolds had a dozen points already, after being held w/o a field goal in the 1st half, and 'Nova had been threatening to pull away. Reynolds quickly dissipated the energy, though, by driving to the baseline, drawing a crowd of defenders and then dishing to Cunningham, who laid it in deftly.

Why Did Notre Dame Win?

Colin Falls. He scored 23 points while playing all 40 minutes.

Rob Kurz. The Montgomery County native recorded an exact double-double, with ten points and ten rebounds.

Devastating defense. The Wildcats shot only 33% from the floor, and 31.5% from beyond the arc. Notre Dame also effectively controlled Villanova’s best scorer, Sumpter. Sumpter finished with 11 points, but on miserable 3-13 shooting, the 13th unlucky shot being the one that did not tie the game at the buzzer. In contrast, Scottie Reynolds had a respectable 19 points, but as with Sumpter, he had a very difficult game, when it came to shooting percentage – the freshman connected on just five of his 14 field goal attempts, and eight of his points came from the free throw line.

Getting to the free throw line often, and delivering accurate shooting, once there. The Fighting Irish took 37 free throws (compared to just 24 for Villanova) and made 29, an impressive 78.4% that was literally the difference between victory and defeat. Ironically, the free throw disparity would have been even greater, if ND hadn’t fouled ‘Nova three times in the final minutes and provided the Wildcats seven additional free throws that they shouldn’t even have had.

Villanova wound up with a lot of players in foul trouble: Mike Nardi and Shane Clark eventually fouled out, while Will Sheridan and Dante Cunningham finished with four fouls. With Jay Wright using a de facto seven-man rotation, the Wildcats simply don’t have enough depth, to have so many players saddled with fouls.

But leaving all of the above negatives, aside:

The excruciating part of this loss is that the Wildcats still did many things right. Notre Dame’s offense didn’t run all that much better than ‘Nova’s – 35% from the floor, 25% from beyond the arc, while committing 18 turnovers. Russell Carter, their go-to player, had a game similar to Sumpter’s: 14 points on 3-11 shooting, with 7-8 FTs. Under those circumstances, wins usually take place. Villanova caught a break with ND’s inept handling of the end game, and had a reasonable chance of snatching victory nonetheless.

Next Up for the Wildcats

It doesn’t get any easier for ‘Nova, as the Wildcats return to action on Monday, January 29, at the Wachovia Center, taking on #9 Pittsburgh. Please see the detailed preview at the top of the page for more on this titanic clash with the current first-place Big East squad.

Questions? Comments? Information? You can contact Craig Dimitri at

No comments: