Villanova faced Marquette in Milwaukee, for the first time in over four decades, on Monday, February 19, 2007. The last time the schools had met there was February 10, 1967, 40 years and nine days earlier. Much has changed for both schools and the NCAA landscape during that span – among them, the abolition of the one-and-one on five team fouls and the addition of the right to shoot two shots at the 10th foul. These provisions were wisely added in order to avoid games such as the one that took place on Monday in Milwaukee. However, had he been present, a visitor from 1967 would have actually seen a style of play, with which he’d have been familiar: a long game, with a boatload of fouls on both teams, and a dreary back-and-forth march from foul line to foul line, down the stretch. #16 Marquette was able to stymie Villanova, 80-67, in an ugly, foul-marred game that saw no fewer than 54 fouls (ironically, with 27 called on each team) at the Bradley Center.
Marquette snapped a three-game losing streak and virtually assured itself of a NCAA bid: it was their ninth conference victory, and they are now assured of finishing over .500 in conference play, the final obstacle to being able to relax on Selection Sunday. The Golden Eagles improved their record to 9-5 Big East and 22-7 overall. Unfortunately for Villanova, the Wildcats dipped to 6-7 Big East, 18-9 overall – it was their second loss to a ranked opponent in three days, as ‘Nova fell to then-#14 Georgetown on Saturday at the Wachovia Center. They have just three regular-season games remaining to right the ship, although ‘Nova’s already high RPI will only be enhanced by adding the Marquette loss.
There was an unlikely hero for Marquette. Freshman Lazar Hayward scored a career-high 18 points on 5-7 shooting, before fouling out down the stretch (his 18 points came in just 28 minutes). A more likely hero was sophomore Domenic James, who matched Hayward’s 18 points, and added five assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals. The best line in the box score came from Wesley Matthews (who took a nasty fall in the first half diving for a loose ball, but eventually returned). Matthews finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, while being perfect at the free throw line, from which he took a dozen shots. As a team, Marquette (which had ranked next-to-last in the Big East in free-throw accuracy) shot 31-35 from the line, an astonishing 88.6%.
For Villanova, Scottie Reynolds had 25 points, but he did not have a good game running the point, committing five turnovers against a pair of assists. Curtis Sumpter had 14 points and five rebounds, while Mike Nardi (in a substantial improvement from last year’s Marquette game at the Pavilion), finished with 10 points on 3-6 shooting, while playing just 22 minutes. Of the eight Wildcats who saw action, Shane Clark fouled out and Reynolds, Sumpter and Dante Cunningham each finished with four fouls. (Bilal Benn returned from his one-game absence against Georgetown, playing 13 minutes but scoring just a single point.)
In marked contrast to the loss to Georgetown two days earlier, this was a painful game to watch. Villanova matched Marquette in the first half, going to the locker room deadlocked at 33, but gradually watched the Golden Eagles pull away in the second half. The 80 points yielded were a high, the first time since January 17, that a Villanova opponent has reached the 80-point plateau (The Wildcats defeated Notre Dame by 15 points, in a 102-87 victory at the Pavilion.) Granted, 31 points were scored at the foul line, but the high number of fouls also indicates that ‘Nova was permitting the Golden Eagles too many possessions and too much penetration, hence there were more fouls which needed to be committed.
The game started very early in Milwaukee on Presidents' Day, with a 6 PM tip Central Time to accommodate ESPN. The Marquette students got a lot of face time, and furnished a far more lively performance, than the interminable, foul-plagued game itself. Among others, there was a “Merry Presidents’ Day” sign, but they honored the heroes of the NCAA pantheon as well, waving giant heads-on-sticks of ESPN”s Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, etc. There was also a pair of “Blues Brothers” (Chicago is just 90 minutes away).
Next Up for the Wildcats
Villanova will have a respite, returning home all week to await a weak Rutgers team on Senior Day, Saturday, February 24, 2007, at the Pavilion. I will have a comprehensive preview later in the week.
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