Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Villanova Defense Devastates Hawks, 56-39 – SJU’s Fewest Points in Holy War in 68 Years – 'Cats Sweep City Series for 2nd Straight Year

By Craig Dimitri

Coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats used devastating defense, to suffocate the Hawks’ offense on Tuesday, February 6, 2007, at the Pavilion. They allowed a paltry 39 points, while forcing 21 St. Joseph’s turnovers. The 39 points were the fewest SJU has scored in a Holy War since – coincidentally – 1939, when Villanova crushed St. Joseph’s, 36-8. (It’s safe to say that particular record will never be surpassed!) So this is the de facto record-setter for Villanova defense, in the Big Five era, which started just over a half-century ago.)

It is a Holy War which deserves mention in the annals of the rivalry, due to the City-Series-record-setting Villanova defense. The superlatives are outstanding to categorize:

The Hawks shot just 26% from the floor – an easy-to-calculate 13-50. They were even worse from beyond the arc, shooting just 21% (3-14).

In scoring just 39 points, no Hawk reached double figures. The team leaders in points were starting guard Garrett Williamson, and a bench player, Darrin Govens, who scored eight points apiece. (Williamson nearly had a double-double, with ten rebounds).

Obviously, the Villanova defense deserves no credit for this shortcoming, but the Hawks were an abysmal 10-22 (46%) from the free throw line, one of the reasons why they scored just 39 points.

That having been said, the SJU defense was very formidable in its own right. On an ordinary evening, it probably would have doomed the Wildcats to defeat. Villanova scored only 56 points, matching its season low (the previous two 56s were in a loss @ West Virginia, and a win @ Georgetown). Moreover, it came on the heels of the 57-point output in the Wachovia Center victory against Louisville on Saturday, February 3, 2007. The Wildcats also committed 18 turnovers. Of course, there aren’t many games in this era, where 56 points and 18 turnovers propel a rout of the opponent, but that was the case on Tuesday night. This fact is a testament to the ferocity of the Wildcat defense.

For Villanova, the pair of standouts were seniors, playing in their final City Series contest: Curtis Sumpter and Mike Nardi. In only 30 minutes, Sumpter finished with 14 points on 6-11 shooting, seven rebounds, a pair of assists and three blocked shots. (Almost all of those numbers came in the first half – by intermission, Sumpter already had a dozen points and five rebounds.)

Nardi, playing 37 minutes, ended up with 11 points on just 3-12 shooting, but also dealt seven assists (one more than the entire Hawk team, which had just six!) Sophomore Shane Clark also provided a significant contribution, narrowly missing a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds in just 28 minutes (had he played a little more, he almost certainly would have gotten the double-double).

Aside from the lack of offensive output, the only annoyance of the contest, was the fact that SJU was able to backdoor some spectacular dunks, embarrassing the Villanova defense on those lobs. Had the game been closer, those defensive lapses would have been properly cited, as a potential impediment to victory. Fortunately, since the Hawks weren’t really in the contest, right from the opening-tip, those dunks didn’t matter (although they were good highlight-reel footage.).

Villanova improved to 4-0 Big Five, 16-7 overall; SJU fell to 2-1 Big Five, 13-10 overall. The 39 points were the lowest any Villanova opponent had scored this season, and also represented only the second time a Wildcat opponent had scored fewer than 50 points.

Two Surprises – Reggie Redding and Bilal Benn

Redding has begun to emerge as a key member of the Wildcats’ rotation, in recent games. A product of St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, Redding logged 25 minutes, had five rebounds, an assist and a pair of steals (although he also had a terrible night shooting – 2-11 from the floor, missing all of the half-dozen three-pointers he attempted, and finishing with just four points).

Benn was Villanova’s secret weapon. Benn played 19 minutes (more than twice his average of 9.4 minutes/game) scoring half a dozen points on 3-4 shooting, and finishing with four rebounds and three steals (albeit with three turnovers). All of these events culminated in Benn fouling out (the first time this season, that he had more than three fouls). The 19 minutes were the second-highest of the season (Benn's high is 20 minutes on November 30, 2006, at Stony Brook), and they were the most he had played since logging 16 minutes on December 6, 2006, @ Oklahoma.

City Series Superlatives

Holy War All-Time Series: Villanova has now increased its lead to 41-23, winning its third in a row.

Holy War in the Past Decade: Villanova has now won eight of the last ten meetings, in the seasons ending in ’97, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’05, ’06, and ’07, with SJU’s victories coming only in ’03 and ’04. (There was no game in 1998, due to Villanova’s absence from the full round-robin, during the 1990s.)

Holy War under Commanders Jay Wright/Phil Martelli: This is the first time that the two friends have faced each other as generals in the Holy War. Wright has now taken a 4-2 lead over Martelli, after the latter had gone up 2-1 after the 2004 game.

Holy War @ the Pavilion: Villanova now leads 5-2.

City Series Outright Championships: These back-to-back titles are Villanova’s 7th and 8th Big Five championships.

Villanova has now won eleven straight in City Series play – the last loss was against Temple, 53-52, at the Palestra, on December 2, 2004.

As noted above, Villanova secured its second straight outright City Series title. However, the 2006-07 season is among the most dominant 4-0 sweeps by any of the Big Five schools, in the half-century or so of the City Series’ existence. The reason: all four of Villanova’s victories were by double-digit margins:

December 2, 2006 – Palestra – W 99-89, over Penn (+ 10).
December 23, 2006 – Tom Gola Arena – W 64-51, over La Salle (+13).
December 30, 2006 – Pavilion – W 83-65, over Temple (+18).
February 6, 2007 – Pavilion – W 56-39, over St. Joseph’s (+17).

That’s a rarity in City Series play, to dominate all four opponents to such an extent.

Sights and Sounds

SJU made wise use of its 500 ticket allotment, which placed them in the apex of the ND section of the Pavilion. Given that they were outnumbered by a twelve-to-one margin by Wildcat partisans, they did succeed in making a lot of noise.

The Villanova pep band was outstanding, and here is a sampling of some of their set:

“V for Villanova” several times, of course;

“Let’s Get It Started” – The Black-Eyed Peas, to begin the game – that’s a great adrenaline-pumping song, for the opening;

“The Impression That I Get” – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones;

“You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon

“Mars”, from the classical composer Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite, “The Planets”. (Horst was an Englishman, despite his name. He completed the suite in 1916, with "Mars" as the opening movement - it is the most popular of Holst's compositions.)

The pep-band version of "Mars" is a song the Villanova bands plays often, and I was very familiar with it, as would be any frequenter of the Pavilion. However, I had never known its title, and so I asked the band after the game, for the answer. They told me – much to my surprise – that it was the classical piece described above: it's also known as “Mars” or “War”, since Mars was the ancient god of war. That’s the music that when played by the band, the student section will (in response) rhythmically pump their arms forward, as if they were signaling a first down in football. It has a very low, rumbling sound to it, and finishes in a big crescendo.

Missing in Action

Dwayne Anderson actually got into the game on Tuesday, something which he hadn’t done for a while. He played two minutes and had two rebounds, an assist and a turnover. While two minutes isn’t a lot, he hadn’t played a single minute in any of the Wildcats’ last four games. His most recent appearance, before the Holy War cameo, was against then-#21 Texas on January 20, 2007, where he saw 2 minutes. Although, of course, the sophomore clearly remains in Wright’s doghouse.

Will Sheridan’s numbers have also plunged sharply over the last two games: he played just 17 minutes in the February 3, 2007 victory over Louisville – and he played a season-low 13 minutes in the Holy War.

Next Up For the Wildcats

The Wildcats sail into the Pirates’ cove at the Meadowlands on Saturday, February 10, 2007. Seton Hall is having a rough year, and the cavernous Continental Airlines Arena is among the most visitor-friendly in the Big East. With the venue less-than-half-full, as it will be Saturday with Seton Hall struggling at 3-6 Big East, 12-10 overall, it’s a must-win for Villanova. The Pirates are the first of two weak opponents in the course of the next week, the other being Cincinnati on Valentine's Day.

Questions? Comments? Information? You can e-mail Craig Dimitri at

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