Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wildcats Blizzard Bearcats, 64-48, In Front of Student Crowd at Pavilion

By Craig Dimitri

Valentine’s Day, 2007, was the first time the Cincinnati Bearcats had ever traveled to the Philadelphia region to play Villanova. They won’t want to come back any time soon, either for the weather outside the Pavilion, or the ferocious Villanova defense they encountered within it. Both indoors and outdoors, it was about as bad as it could be for a Villanova opponent.

The conditions were highly inhospitable: snow, sleet, wind, etc. And it was just as bad for the woeful Cincinnati Bearcats inside the snowed-in Pavilion. In front of a student-packed building, with regular-season-ticket holders kept snowbound by the ghastly wintry mix, Villanova crushed Cincinnati, 64-48, in a game that was far more lopsided, than the 16-point margin would indicate. (VU announced earlier that day that due to the weather, any student could present his/her WildCard and receive a free ticket for the game, since there would be quite a few no-shows among the non-student ticketholders.)

The Wildcats sent Cincinnati out with a gale force in the first half, gusting out to a 30-8 lead with less than five minutes to go in the first half. By intermission, the Wildcats had nine steals and had forced a dozen turnovers, while permitting the Bearcats only five field goals (on three assists), 15 shots, and 17 points. Villanova had Cincy doubled-up at halftime, 34-17, and that was with Curtis Sumpter and Dante Cunningham combining to score no points before the half. Instead, the star of the first half was Mike Nardi, who had already hit four triples and posted 14 of his eventual 16 points, by the halftime buzzer. The Wildcats coasted the rest of the way. Cunningham almost ended up with a double-double, anyhow, finishing the game with 11 points and nine rebounds.

Villanova won its fourth straight game, and now has won eight of its last 10. The Wildcats lifted their record to 6-5 Big East, 18-7 overall, and continued their February momentum – they haven’t lost since January 29 against Pittsburgh. The Bearcats have been going in the opposite direction, as they have now lost their last seven games. Cincinnati, which will soon be eliminated from contention for the dozen-team Big East tournament, fell to 1-10 Big East, 10-15 overall. It is likely to be the worst season at UC since the pre-Bob Huggins era, which lasted for 15 seasons before abruptly ending in August 2005.

The statistics do not show a large VU advantage in any area, but that was primarily because the game was really over, before it began. One of the many downsides to the bloated Big East, is the fact that the bottom quarter of the conference is going to reach the end of the road in about two and a half weeks. There was always the chance of redemption, before the expansion. No matter how bad your team was, you could always cling to the hope of getting hot in March and even if not winning the BE tournament, at least coming up with an upset and making your presence known to some opponent on the NCAA bubble. But for last-place Cincinnati, there is no such solace – there’s nothing to do but play out the string. Granted, they have only one senior and there’s nowhere to go but up. Nonetheless, this was a very unpleasant evening, during an entire season of unpleasantness for UC this year. (The stretch in the first half, where they went over 11 minutes without scoring…about as rough sledding as one can encounter…) The lone bright spot was John Williamson’s 15 points and five rebounds, the only Bearcat to reach double figures.

The annihilation was that much more surprising, because the Bearcats had performed well at Syracuse, Providence, and Rutgers, losing only narrowly at three of the toughest home courts in the conference. In addition, there was some genuine concern about the intensity level for the Wildcats – a late tip-time of 9 PM to accommodate ESPNU, a Pavilion without its usual throng of spectators due to the weather, and the inescapable fact that Cincinnati entered the game having lost six in a row and 11 of its last dozen contests. Despite all of those intensity-sapping factors, however, the Wildcats achieved exactly what Jay Wright needed: a big lead early, a chance to rest the key players and to get the bench players some minutes, all of which happened. One dozen Wildcats saw action in the game, which featured cameos from Casiem Drummond, Frank Tchuisi, Ross Condon, and even five minutes for Dwayne Anderson. Nobody played more than 29 minutes. Bilal Benn and St. Joseph’s Prep product Reggie Redding, both of whom are seeing increased minutes in the rotation, got 22 and 20 minutes respectively.

Next Up for the Wildcats

The showdown is looming with #14 Georgetown, which has won eight straight and seeks to avenge the defeat Villanova dealt them at the Verizon Center in Washington, back on Monday, January 8, 2007. Roy Hibbert scored just two points while GU committed 22 turnovers, highly favorable facts for Villanova but ones which are not likely to replicate themselves on Saturday at the Wachovia Center.

I’ll have a full preview of the big showdown, plus an updated history of the Villanova/Georgetown rivalry.

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

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