Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Foul Line Is Fine Line Between Victory and Defeat for Wildcats in Opening Rd of BET; #9 Villanova Downs #8 DePaul, 75-67

#9 Villanova downed #8 DePaul, 75-67, in the opening round of the Big East tournament in New York City on Wednesday, March 7, 2007. The Wildcats improved their record to 22-9 overall, and advanced to face top-seeded Georgetown on Thursday, March 8, 2007, at noon.

DePaul fell to 18-14 overall: it was the Blue Demons' first-ever Big East tournament game, as it is only their second season in the conference, and last year they did not qualify for the tournament.However, although they are now officially off the NCAA bubble, the Blue Demons will receive a NIT bid. In addition, it was the first time these two schools had met in Madison Square Garden since the 1963 NIT. Both a comprehensive preview of the Villanova/Georgetown contest on Thursday, and an updated Villanova/Georgetown Rivalry History, can be found directly above this post.

There is a fine line between victory and defeat – and today the foul line was that line for Villanova. This was particularly true with the absence of Mike Nardi, who played just five minutes due to the ankle injury he suffered in the victory over Syracuse. (Nardi did not have any statistics in the box score, even in those five minutes.) The Wildcats went 33-38 (86.8%) from the line, a stellar performance, and that figure ultimately made the difference in their advance to the quarterfinal round.

Villanova’s victory was steady, well-played, and fundamentally sound. The game plan was clear: get the ball to Scottie Reynolds (playing in his first BE tournament) and Curtis Sumpter (playing in his last). The duo took 35 of the Wildcats’ 46 field goal attempts and combined to score 33 of the 42 Villanova points that did not come from the line. Reynolds finished with 29 points, Sumpter with 25. Dante Cunningham was the only other Wildcat to reach double figures, scoring a dozen points, but 10 of those 12 came from the line. He just missed a double-double with nine rebounds.

The Wildcats maintained a single-digit lead throughout the entire game, as DePaul never tied or took the lead, despite staying within striking distance for all 40 minutes.

Reggie Redding started in Nardi’s place; the senior made his first appearance at the 13:52 mark, but departed shortly thereafter. Redding played 33 minutes, and by and large, Jay Wright used only a six-man rotation. Other than the starters and Shane Clark’s 20 minutes, the only other bench help came from Nardi’s five minutes and a cameo appearance by Bilal Benn on DePaul’s final possession of the first half (done solely to prevent Reynolds from picking up his second foul). It does not bode well for the game against Georgetown tomorrow that the Wildcats have only six players, plus Nardi.

The Wildcats jumped out to a 8-0 lead to start the game, but led just 28-26 at halftime. After play resumed, they launched an identical 8-0 run in less than two minutes, that established control of the game. DePaul could never scrape together enough offense to make a sustained charge, although the Blue Demons hung around the entire afternoon, and could very easily have taken the game, if the Wildcats had been even average at the line. For DePaul, the big trio of Sammy Mejia, Wilson Chandler, and Draelon Burns led the way. Mejia had 20 points, Chandler and Burns with 18 each.

There was one particularly impressive sequence in the second half for ‘Nova. It consisted of a halfcourt set, starting with a screen from Will Sheridan to free Reynolds, who drove the baseline, underneath the backboard, dished to Sumpter, who whirled it to Redding at the top of the key for a rare three-pointer – his first triple since February 3 against Louisville. Redding had entered the game shooting at a 12% clip from three-point range – and since he hadn’t played a single minute in the regular-season loss at the Pavilion, it is safe to say that nobody on DePaul’s staff considered him a threat from the perimeter. Perhaps emboldened by his success, Redding subsequently took two other three-point attempts, although neither went down.

The rest of the second half was somewhat dreary for a win, as it consisted largely of Villanova free throws. The Wildcats did flirt with breaking the Big East tournament record for free throw accuracy, which I believe was something along the lines of 95%. The accuracy dipped near the end, though, and so they didn’t come close to breaking the record.

Next Up for the Wildcats

The top-seeded Hoyas, who had a bye for the first round, await Villanova on Thursday at noon. A preview for Georgetown is above this post, as is the updated Villanova/Georgetown Rivalry History.

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