Saturday, February 03, 2007

Both Clarks Shine at Wachovia Center, as Villanova Clips Cardinals, 57-53

By Craig Dimitri

On Saturday, February 3, 2007, Villanova secured an important win, over a talented Louisville Cardinals team, 57-53, at the Wachovia Center. The Cardinals are perched high above the Wildcats in the Big East standings. Even with the defeat, Louisville remains at 6-3 Big East, 16-7 overall; the Wildcats improved to 4-5 Big East, 15-7 overall.

Unlike their last two games, which ended in narrow defeats to ranked opponents – Pittsburgh and @ Notre Dame - Villanova was able to hang on down the stretch and defeat a quality adversary. Louisville appeared to be headed for a rout, falling behind 15-5 early. But the Cardinals rallied, even taking the lead in the second half, before Curtis Sumpter and Scottie Reynolds were able to assert themselves down the stretch.

Shane Clark led the Wildcats with a dozen points, with Mike Nardi contributing 11, including the first five points of the game. For Louisville, the show was stolen by freshman Earl Clark, playing in front of an entourage from his home in nearby New Jersey – Clark led the Cardinals with a career-high 14 points, on 5-9 shooting. No other Cardinal reached double figures. Both Curtis Sumpter and Scottie Reynolds finally got rolling in the second half. Sumpter finished with 10 points and six rebounds on 3-8 shooting, while Reynolds dealt a career-high 10 assists against four turnovers, while scoring nine points on anemic 2-11 shooting from the floor. For both sides, it was a far cry from their last meeting, on January 30, 2006, at the Wachovia Center, where the teams combined to hit 26 triples, including five from now-departed Cardinal Taquan Dean, in Villanova’s victory.

Villanova has now beaten Louisville on all three occasions, since the Cardinals joined the Big East at the beginning of last season, now twice at the Wachovia Center. The Wildcats lead all-time, 6-5. The first meeting was at the Palestra, on January 28, 1950, where the Cardinals defeated the Wildcats in a 78-68 barnburner, a shootout under the rules of that era.

Why Did the Wildcats Win?

Suffocating defense, particularly denying entry passes and drives to the basket.

The 53 Louisville points were the second-lowest of their 24 contests this season – only archrival Kentucky had held them to fewer points this year, when those “other” Wildcats defeated them 61 - 49 back on December 16, 2006. This afternoon, the Cardinals were equally unsuccessful, whether the shots were for two points or three – they shot just 34% in both categories.

The Cardinals also took just nine free-throw attempts (making seven), an indication that they were unable to pierce Villanova’s interior defense, and thus had to rely on the outside shot. 23 of their 55 shots (a majority) were from three-point range. And the Cardinals didn’t make enough of them (although they came alarmingly close to doing so, losing by only four points).

Crashing the boards. Despite Padgett’s presence – and the fact that ‘Nova’s biggest player, Will Sheridan, played only 17 minutes, the quicker Wildcats destroyed Louisville on the glass, 42-27.

Virtually erasing Padgett’s considerable offensive skills. Although he had a fine defensive game, Padgett was not a factor on the offensive end, finishing with just four points on 2-6 shooting.

Help off the bench. Shane Clark and Reggie Redding combined for 19 points and nine rebounds, on 7-10 FG shooting.

Louisville came remarkably close to stealing this game on the road, given the horrendous start of their afternoon. The Cardinals missed nine of their first 10 shots - while committing three turnovers, which is uncharacteristic of them - and as a result, quickly fell behind, 15-5. In contrast, Villanova connected on six of its first nine shots. Scottie Reynolds had dealt four of his career-high 10 assists in the first 11 minutes.

However, once Louisville began making some buckets and getting, albeit rarely, to the foul line (VU committed a lot of fouls and permitted U of L to get to the bonus in the first half) they were able to set up the Pitino press, which gave Villanova fits: the Cardinals forced two five-seconds calls and a timeout just with the press. After the five-second calls, the Villanova offense got jittery and failed to score for a seemingly-interminable length: seven minutes and 15 seconds. This lengthy drought permitted the Cardinals – led by Earl Clark, the northern New Jersey native – to rally and post a 8-0 run, pulling to within 17-15. At halftime, Villanova led just 22-20.

The Clarks put on a show, particularly during a sequence late in the first half. Shane Clark made a highly athletic block of a shot by Earl Clark, who demonstrated that he could do the same thing at the other end, swatting a shot by Sumpter into the fourth row.

The offensive numbers at halftime were dreadful for both sides, with Villanova’s only slightly better. Louisville was 6-27 (22%) overall, 3-13 from beyond the arc (23%) – Earl Clark led with eight points. For its part, Villanova was 9-27 (33%), 2-9 (22%) from beyond the arc – Mike Nardi led with seven points – and the Wildcats had also committed eight turnovers, compared to Louisville’s three. The Villanova faithful was nervous, given that when the opponent shoots only 22% from the floor - on the road – in the first half, one would expect to be leading by more than two points at intermission.

Shortly after play resumed, I believed that Louisville was going to pull out the game. The reason for my pessimism was a sequence in which Dante Cunningham – the defender who had chief responsibility for controlling Padgett – picked up his third foul. Subsequently, after Louisville had been awarded the ball out of bounds, he committed his fourth foul on the same possession, at the 14:11 mark – two fouls for Cunningham in 11 seconds. Moreover, this happened right after Louisville had just taken a 30-29 lead, its first of the afternoon. Given the offensive numbers Padgett had put up recently, I did not believe that he could be held off indefinitely – Padgett had scored just one basket on three shots in the first half. And with Cunningham banished to the bench with four fouls, I anticipated that Louisville would begin having success in feeding Padgett in the low post.

However, I was proven wrong – Louisville continued to struggle to get Padgett the ball. In fact, he took only three shots in the second half. Even with Cunningham on the bench, Padgett never got on track offensively – he was held scoreless in the second half, until there were only about five and a half minutes remaining. Jay Wright and the Villanova defense deserve enormous credit for shutting down a very proficient post player, who had come into the game red-hot.

The Decisive Point in the Game

Louisville did eventually take the lead in the second half. But with the score deadlocked at 39 – and the Cardinals continuing their charge - Clark and Redding delivered consecutive three-pointers. Their pair of triples ignited the ‘Nova crowd, and put Villanova up for good, 45-39. Shortly afterwards, Villanova caught a break (after Louisville had answered with a basket of its own), the Cardinals batted the ball out of bounds, with just a single second on the shot clock. But since it was the first whistle under eight minutes (the 6:44 mark), Wright had the benefit of a full timeout to set up a play to score from under Louisville’s basket in a single second. And it worked – Reynolds lobbed it to Cunningham, who laid it in to extend ‘Nova’s lead to 47-41. It delighted the crowd, and Louisville – although the Cardinals kept it close – could never retake the lead.

Despite the tight, four-point, final margin, there wasn’t much of a strategic endgame of foul/press/timeout sequences. The reason was that Louisville generally did not score on its endgame possessions -and thus could not set up what had been their effective press, since Villanova was not forced to inbound the ball. From the 5:01 mark, Louisville scored only two points in the ensuing 4:55. There were only six seconds remaining, when Edgar Sosa hit a three, rendering the final score 57-53. To illustrate - at the 5:01 mark, Louisville trailed just 50-48. But Villanova embarked upon a 7-2 run that put the game away.

Various Villanoviana

Reggie Redding. The freshman (a graduate of Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s Prep) matched his career-high with 30 minutes, and was a key contributor in the victory. Redding’s developing skills have made him a badly needed bench player for the Villanova rotation.

Will Sheridan. He saw very little playing time, far lower than usual, especially with an opponent with a formidable post player. Granted, during his 17 minutes, he did not score, grab a rebound, or block a shot – the only entry in the box score was a single assist. Since he apparently wasn’t hurt, I must speculate that his lack of impact on the floor was the reason for his lack of minutes.

The 17 minutes were only the fourth time this season, that the senior forward had logged fewer than 20. Two of the three others were against the cupcakes Rider and Stony Brook - the first one being vs. Iowa in November at the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands, back in November 2006.

Musings on Louisville

Clearly, Louisville is a NCAA-caliber team, one which simply did not turn in a strong performance, at the Wachovia Center on Saturday. A concise summary of the problem today: four of their starters combined for 24 points. Louisville’s leading scorer was a freshman bench player (although a superbly talented one).

But look at it this way – their two best weapons, Padgett and Williams, were non-factors – and Louisville still lost, on the road, to a quality opponent, by just four points. They held Villanova’s potent offense to just 57 points, just one more than Wildcats’ lowest output of their 22 games. (Their two worst offensive games were a pair of 56-point outputs, one in a loss @ West Virginia and the other in a win @ Georgetown). They forced 16 turnovers, double the eight miscues they committed themselves. In summary, the Cardinals’ name will be called on Selection Sunday, unless they have a catastrophic collapse during the rest of February.

Next Up for Villanova

The St. Joseph’s Hawks (4-4 Atlantic 10, 12-9 overall – prior to facing Dayton on Super Bowl Sunday, February 4) fly into the Pavilion on Tuesday, for Villanova’s final City Series game of the year. Villanova, with a victory, could sweep the City Series while losing to Drexel, which I would guess is unprecedented for any City Series school. Tip-off is at 7 PM. I will provide a full preview, in addition to the updated History of the Holy War.

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

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