Sunday, January 21, 2007

Villanova Hooks 'Horns, Toppling #21 Texas, 76-69

by Craig Dimitri

On Saturday afternoon, at the Wachovia Center, Villanova acquired a high-profile, inter-sectional victory that could very well propel them into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats triumphed over #21 Texas, 76-69, with CBS' cameras capturing it as one of the national games that afternoon. Most astounding of all, Villanova did so, without the services of its leading scorer, fifth-year senior Curtis Sumpter, who dressed- but did not play. (I speculate that there was no chance that he would play, but Jay Wright had him dress anyhow, in order to force Texas coach Rick Barnes into preparing for his potential entry into the game, even off the bench.) Sumpter is suffering from a bone bruise on his left tibia, which he incurred against Notre Dame on Wednesday.

Freshman point guard Scottie Reynolds spearheaded the Villanova effort, turning in his second consecutive remarkable performance. After scoring a career-high 27 points in the victory over #20 Notre Dame on Wednesday, Reynolds nearly matched it by scoring 26 against the Longhorns. Most importantly, he made many key free throws down the stretch. Texas did not go quietly, cutting a 14-point deficit to two points, with 2:21 remaining. But Reynolds' clutch free throws kept the Longhorns at bay, and the freshman ultimately went a stellar 12-13 from the free throw line.

In addition, Sumpter's replacement, Shane Clark, was outstanding in the understudy role, finishing with a double-double: 11 points and a dozen rebounds. Finally, kudos go to Dante Cunningham, who finished with 16 points, as well as the day's most memorable play - a dunk over Durant to give 'Nova a 46-37 lead, and triggered a roar from the large Wachovia Center crowd.

On the defensive end, Villanova's defense clamped down effectively upon Texas' impact freshman, Kevin Durant, the team's clear star - the Longhorns lost all five starters from their team last year, thus creating a vacuum for a newcomer to score a lot of points. Durant had averaged 34 points over his last four games, but he was very effectively contained, and had one of the worst games of his brief collegiate career. Despite playing all 40 minutes, Durant scored only a dozen points - this marked only the third occasion this season, when a Texas opponent had held him under 20 points. Durant shot only 4-15 from the floor- and missed all six of his field goal attempts in the second half. And of those half a dozen shots - he took only a pair during the first 18 minutes of the second half. (Durant's struggles were partially offset, by an outstanding game from another freshman, guard D.J. Augustin. Augustin matched his career-high by scoring 25 points against 'Nova.) Overall, it was a great team defensive effort on Durant, an excellent example of Jay Wright's emphasis on defensive intensity.

Both teams' records now stand at 13-5, and both will probably make the NCAA tournament. But this game served as sweet revenge for 'Nova's defeat in Austin last season. Worth noting: It was a rare visit for Texas to Philadelphia. The Longhorns hadn't played here in over half a century - since the Truman adminstration, in fact, when they defeated St. Joseph's, 55-54, on December 18, 1948.

The Wildcats will now travel to Providence, to take on the Friars at the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Tuesday, January 23. The two schools did not meet in 2005-06, due to the expansion of the Big East. Villanova has historically struggled there, with a dismal record of 2-13 since 1991 in that venue.

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

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