Wednesday, December 23, 2009

#8 Wildcats Give Fans Early Christmas Gift - Redding Blasts Blue Hens at Pavilion, 97-63

To the Wildcat faithful-

The Christmas time cupcakes at the Pavilion, are always played in the midst of the holiday season, with fans often distracted with the assorted assembly of activities, essential to the Christmas season.  There are more no-shows than normal, at the perpetually-packed Pavilion, as the ticketholders are - and with full justification - often at the Court of King of Prussia, rather than the Pavilion court.
And when the opponent is a cupcake - and the game isn't even on TV - the game is often overlooked.  And the opponent was Delaware - the archrival in football, but not a power in basketball.  Delaware entered the game with a 3-7 record, and has never beaten a Top 25 team.

And, moreover, the basketball Wildcats are in a rarely encountered situation - being overshadowed by the national champion football Wildcats, who captured their first title on December 18.

Finally, this was the final Wildcats game in 2009, as well as the final non-Big East opponent.  The Wildcats will enjoy a nine-day Christmas break, not returning to the court until the Marquette game on January 2.

And so, with all of these distractions...

Early in the second half, the game seemed overlooked even to the Wildcat players on Wednesday, as the Delaware Blue Hens rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit, to trail by just eight points, 48-40, early in the second half.  But the Wildcats took it from there, ultimately walloping the Blue Hens by 34 points, 97-63.

Reggie Redding, in his second game back from suspension, impressed with 16 points on near-perfect 6-7 shooting, along with half a dozen rebounds.  The #8 Wildcats won their 33rd consecutive game at the Pavilion, and also triumphed in their final non-Big East game of the season (until the NCAA tournament in March, of course.)  Scottie Reynolds led the Wildcats with 22 points and six assists.

Although perennial rivals on the gridiron, Wednesday marked the first time that the Wildcats and Blue Hens had clashed on the hardwood, in nearly a decade.  The last previous meeting was in the 2000 NIT, at the Pavilion.  In that first-round contest of the traditional tournament, the Steve Lappas-led Wildcats overcame the disappointment factor to triumph, 72-63.  There were many empty seats, as the Wildcats had fallen just one game short of an at-large bid, after a loss to a superior St. John's team, in the Big East tournament the previous week.  It was the final Pavilion game for Malik Allen, Brian Lynch, and T. J. Caouette.

Finally, it's worth noting that a decade after rejoining the Big Five round-robin, Villanova faced more Greater Philadelphia teams this year, than in many a season.  In addition to the four City Series opponents, the Wildcats also hosted Drexel and Delaware, making it six regular-season games against other schools in the Philadelphia sphere of influence.  And the Wildcats did quite well, winning five of the six contests.  The sole loss was to Temple, and as discussed in previous posts, the Wildcats' 3-1 mark will likely be enough to capture a share of the Big Five crown (unless Temple goes 4-0).

Merry Christmas to All!!!! 

Go Wildcats!!!!! 


Saturday, December 19, 2009

"All Hail, Szczur - Veni, Vidi, Vici" - #2 Wildcats, Szczur Are Emperors of I-AA / FCS Division For First Time Ever, Marching Past #1 Montana, 23-21, in Chattanooga!!!!

To the Wildcat faithful!!!
Veni, vidi, vici.

Left - statue of Julius Caesar, St. Petersburg, Russia - / CC BY-SA 2.0

In Latin, that means - "We came.  We saw.  We conquered."

Correction: In Latin, that means - "I came.  I saw.  I conquered."  - Thanks to frequent commenter Seamus (see comment below the post) for noting that the phrase signifies the first person singular, not plural.  In light of the number of Latin courses I took, and enjoyed enormously - I can't believe that I made such an elementary error!  The quote was reportedly attributed to the first Roman emperor, Julius Caesar, in 47 BC.  

And it was, truly "All Hail, Szczur," on Friday night, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The football Wildcats have now won a national championship, the first one in school history.  (It came 24 years, eight months, and 17 days after the basketball Wildcats so memorably captured theirs, in Lexington, Kentucky - April 1, 1985.)

Villanova receiver Matt Szczur's name is derived from the honorary title claimed by the ancient Roman emperors (and pronounced idenitcally), was the driving force behind the Wildcats' first ever conquest of the United States, I-AA / FCS Division....  In a thrilling contest, the Wildcats marched past top-seeded Montana. 23-21...

This is the summary article.  I'll be adding more content, so please check back!  

Congrats to the 'Cats!

Go Wildcats!

Massive Snowstorm, #8 Wildcats Avalanche Fordham, 96-58, at Izod Center, the Meadowlands, New Jersey

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #8 Wildcats, along with a massive East Coast snowstorm, avalanched a plucky but overmatched Fordham Rams, 96-58, in the Izod Center (the Meadowlands), New Jersey, on Saturday afternoon....

The Wildcats led by just nine at halftime, but won the second half, 50-21, as the Rams made just six of their 31 field goal attempts after intermission.  The game marked the return of Reggie Redding from his suspension.

This is the placeholder article - I will be adding more content, please check back for the full game story...

Also, this weekend, the focus should be on the football Wildcats, who brought back their first-ever national championship last night... here's my story on the victory over Montana...

Go Wildcats!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

#2 Wildcats vs. #1 Montana Grizzlies in FCS Championship - Preview of Villanova's Attempt to Capture First-Ever Football National Title

To the Wildcat faithful-

I'll be shifting gears to football, in order to preview the biggest game in Villanova football history.  On Friday night, the football Wildcats - the second seed of the 16-team field - will take on the undefeated, top-seeded Montana Grizzlies, on the ultimately neutral site of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Here's a preview...

First, I'd like to reprint the preview from frequent commenter Seamus, which he had appended to the Temple game story.  Seamus clearly did some research, and had many intelligent things to say about the upcoming gridiron clash - here's his comment in its entirety:
On the Montana game, they take their football very seriously in Montana. (Montana has a lot of 7-man football leagues in its small rural high schools; so high school graduates have a lot of playing experience, often on both sides of the ball.) This is experienced program that's been to national title game several times and came home with trophy twice, I think. They play in very harsh winter conditions in front of 20,000+ fans a game; and seem to be capable of throwing the ball effectively in those conditions.

On most offensive and defensive categories, I think we lead them, but they lead FCS, I believe, in passing attack and they have a 1,400-yard runner. I assume we can stop the run, but defensing their passing game will require our attention and let's hope our secondary has matured over the course of the year.

I take this team very seriously as I'm sure Andy does. His reported comment that Montana can't be tougher than the teams the 'Cats have already played may be effort to get criticism from Montana fans directed his way, instead of at the team.

Look forward to your preview.


Back to me, once more... 

The Viewpoint on the Montana Grizzlies

The Grizzlies carry an undefeated, 14-0 mark into the contest.  They are the champions of the Big Sky Conference, sweeping all eight games.  They will be seeking their third I-AA title (the old name for what is now the FCS).  Montana won it all in 1995, as well as 2001.  Last season, the Grizzlies reached the title game in Chattanooga, but lost to Richmond, 24-7, after they trailed the Spiders 21-0 at the break. 

In addition to their pair of national championships, Montana has also qualified for the I-AA playoffs in every season since 1993, a streak of 17 years, and one which is unmatched in I-AA history.

The Grizzlies' lone touchdown a year ago in Chattanooga, seems even more surprising, given the potency of the team's offense this season.  Montana led the FCS in points per game, averaging over 36; offensive yardage, with 427.57 yards a contest; and points per game, during the three previous rounds, with 45.3.  Their three previous playoff games were remarkable, and worth noting in detail:

In the first round, facing the #16 seed, the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, the Grizzlies made an incredible second-half rally to avoid the upset; South Dakota State was 8-4, and for them to upset Montana, would have been shocking.

The Jackrabbits (what a great nickname!) lived up to that moniker, racing off to a 48-21 lead with 5:40 to play in the third quarter.  Montana not only rallied from 27 points down, they actually won the game by 13 points!  The Grizzlies ultimately triumphed, 61-48, scoring 40 unanswered points.  The game had its share of drama, as South Dakota State, now trailing 54-48, had the ball and potentially could have scored to retake the lead.  But Montana picked off an errant pass, and returned it 32 yards, for a touchdown, making the final margin somewhat misleading.

After having sweated out the Jackrabbits contest, Montana fans didn't need to worry in the next round, against Stephen F. Austin.   Montana forced ten turnovers and crushed the lower-seeded squad, 51-0; it was 38-0 at halftime.  (Montana likely wasn't complacent, since they had come back from 27 down with less than 21 minutes to play, the week before.)

Montana faced its second stiff challenge from Appalachian State, a I-AA power which won back-to-back-to-back national championships from 2005-07.  The Grizzlies trailed 17-14 at the end of three quarters, but rallied for 10 fourth-quarter points to advance, by the score of 24-17.

Another Preview

Mike at VUHoops offers Meet the University of Montana.

Go Wildcats!  Bring home a football national title!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Temple Topples #3 Wildcats, 75-65, Behind 33 Points From Fernandez, at Liacouras Center, Ending Villanova's Bid For 3rd Straight Big Five Sweep

To the Wildcat faithful-

Dick Vitale, the legendary ESPN analyst, likes to say, "Oh, it's so tough to go undefeated."  He's absolutely right.  Nobody has done it, in over three decades.

This is Villanova's 89th season of intercollegiate play.  And it is now, officially, the 89th season, in which the Wildcats will not go undefeated.  Oh, well.  It was great, while it lasted.

This afternoon, at the Liacouras Center, Temple stunned the third-ranked Wildcats, thanks to Juan Fernandez's astounding career-high 33 points, leading the Owls to an upset, and delighting the Temple faithful, who stormed the court, en masse - and rightfully so.  Congratulations to the Owls, and the entire Temple community for pulling off a major upset.  It was Temple's first victory over a Top 5 team in nearly a decade, since upsetting #1 Cincinnati, back on February 22, 2000.

What Keyed the Temple Upset? 

Juan Fernandez.  The Owls sophomore, in one afternoon, has assured himself a place in Big Five lore - the guy who singlehandedly led unranked Temple to a shocking upset of #3 Villanova.  Fernandez, a native of Argentina - as was former Owl standout Juan "Pepe" Sanchez - is a good player, who has started all 10 Temple contests this season, while averaging over a dozen points per contest.

But his previous career-high was 20 points, attained earlier this season.  He had 33 tonight, in a virtuoso performance that probably ranks among the best ever, by a Villanova opponent in a Big Five game.  Fernandez made 11 of 15 field goal attempts, and a staggering 7-9 from three-point range, to hit 33.  Powered by Fernandez's deadly accuracy, the Owls hit half (11) of their 22 three-point attempts.  Thanks to Fernandez, this was a double-digit loss,  albeit one by just 10 points.

Ryan Brooks also had a superb game for Temple: he finished with 20 points on 7-12 shooting, plus five rebounds.  Lavoy Allen had a monster performance with a strong double-double: 10 points and 17 rebounds, swatting two Wildcat shots, dealing three assists, while playing all 40 minutes. 

Team defense was a struggle for Villanova today: the Wildcats permitted Temple to shoot 54.2% from the floor, and 50% from three-point range, and usually, that's a disaster in the making. 

Rebounding was also poor - Temple crushed Villanova on the glass, outrebounding the Wildcats, 34-25.

Finally, Villanova struggled to get to the foul line, where the Wildcats excel.  When the Wildcats did manage to reach the line, they converted nine of their 11 opportunities (81.8%).  But Villanova's small lineup needs to get to the foul line, far more than 11 times, to have a meaningful chance at victory. 

Looking at the Box Score

Scottie Reynolds turned in another outstanding performance.  The senior standout, playing in his final Big Five contest, scored a team-high 23 points, on 9-16 shooting, 3-6 from beyond the arc, plus seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.

One mystery was why Antonio Pena did not crash the boards, with his usual alacrity.  He provided plenty of offensive punch - 16 points on 5-10 shooting and a perfect 6-6 from the line.  But despite playing all but one minute, he had a paltry two rebounds.

Corey Fisher was the third Wildcat to reach double figures; the junior added 14 points on 6-14 shooting.

Taylor King, coming off the bench, added six points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats were also hurt, by the fact that Corey Stokes had a subpar offensive game.  The Bayonne Bomber's sights were off today; he shot only 2-8 from the floor, finishing with just five points.

The Game Action

What made this loss particularly surprising, was the fact that the Wildcats appeared to have control of the contest late in the first half.  Temple led 2-1, but Villanova then took the lead, for the rest of the first half, leading 7-2, 14-8, and 16-10. Temple crawled back into it at 16-15, but Villanova embarked on a strong run and threatened to pull away.

The Wildcat lead ballooned to 33-19, causing Temple coach Fran Dunphy to call timeouts on back-to-back possessions, with less then four minutes to play in the half.  The Wildcats still led by double-digits, 37-26, at the 2:09 mark of the first half.  The Owls counterattacked, though, and cut the margin to 37-31 at intermission.

Villanova was stuck on 37 for not only the final 2:09 of the first half, but for nearly the opening four minutes of the second half, as well - over six minutes without a point.  And Temple jetted ahead on a 11-0 run to the start the second half.  Leading 42-37 before the Wildcats finally scored again, the Owls would never relinquish the lead.

The game was closer, down the stretch, however, than the 10-point margin of victory would indicate.  Villanova trailed by just two points, 63-61, with 4:28 to play, after a layup from Fisher.  With 3:06 to play, two free throws from Pena made it 66-63, a one-possession game.  But the Wildcats scored only two points, in the remaining 3:06, while Temple scored nine.

Villanova was also hurt by the fact that Temple did not foul much in the second half, meaning that the Wildcats could not catch up with their strong foul shooting, without the clock moving (hence the 11 free throws mentioned earlier).  The Wildcats did play a strong trap pressure defense, particularly with the rarity of having fouls to give in the final two minutes, and forced an occasional Temple turnover.  But the Owls committed only a dozen miscues on the game, not enough to permit a Main Liner comeback.

Finally, significant props must be given to former Villanova coach Steve Lappas, who served as color analyst for the CBS College Sports broadcast.  (And, of course, there's nothing to make it feel like Christmas-time, like hearing the stirring CBS "Road to the Final Four" music for the first time in the year, even on a CBS satellite digital channel.)

Lappas described his own unique insights on Villanova, based on his experiences as the Wildcats' head coach for nine years (and before that, as an assistant on the 1985 national championship team coached by Rollie Massimino).  He also provided some fascinating X's and O's analysis.  If we have future games on this channel, I hope that he will once more be the color analyst.

Final - Temple 75, #3 Villanova 65.

Villanova fell to 3-1 City Series, 9-1 overall.  The Owls improved to 1-0 City Series, 8-2 overall.

Villanova / Temple Series Rivalry Facts, Updated
  • This was the 83rd meeting, going all the way back to 1921, Villanova's first season on the hardwood.  The Wildcats now lead, 42-40.
  • Temple snapped a four-game losing streak to Villanova.  The Owls' last previous victory was on December 4, 2004, at the Palestra, when Temple won a 53-52 nailbiter.  No current Owl had ever beaten Villanova.
  • At the Liacouras Center, the teams have now split the four meetings.
  • Jay Wright is now 7-3 against Temple.
City Series Implications

The loss snapped Villanova's incredible winning streak in the Big Five.

Since that aforementioned loss to Temple in December 2004, Villanova had won 21 of 22 Big Five contests, a remarkable feat.  Even now, Villanova has still won 21 of its last 23 (the only other loss was in February 2006, to St. Joseph's).

Since his arrival for the 2001-02 season, Jay Wright is now 28-8 in the Big Five - quite a feat.  He started 7-6, but has gone 21-2 since then.

It's 12 days before Christmas, but Villanova has now completed its City Series slate, with a 3-1 mark.  The Wildcats swept the Big Five in both 2009 and 2008.  Had the Wildcats won today, it would have been four City Series sweeps in five seasons.

The odds are overwhelmingly likely that the three wins will be enough to at least share the crown, and there's a possibility that it might still permit them to win it outright, although Temple would need to go 1-2 in its final three Big Five games.

Ironically, this was Villanova's final City Series game, but it was also the Big Five opener for Temple.  The Owls, hypothetically, could take sole possession of the crown, if-
  1. they defeat Penn at the Palestra on January 13, 
  2. La Salle on January 30 at the Liacouras Center, and 
  3. St. Joseph's on February 20 at the Palestra.  
The Owls will be heavy favorites, against a moribund Penn program (the Quakers are 0-7).   But the two other Atlantic 10 teams will be tough, particularly SJU at the Palestra.  (Although Temple and SJU play twice, due to being in the same division, the Palestra game is the one that counts for City Series purposes.)

The Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll did not have particularly rosy scenarios for Temple this season, having lost Dionte Christmas, the three-time conference leading scorer.  In Temple's seven-team East Division, the Owls were stuck in a tie for fifth-place with Duquesne. 

Any loss by Temple would give Villanova a share of the title...

Next Up for the Wildcats

The team is undoubtedly busy with exams, and will not play again until taking on Fordham at the Meadowlands on Saturday, December 19.

Content will be added throughout the week, so please check back - and take a look at the fine Villanova blogs on the sidebar.

Go Wildcats!


Villanova / Temple Rivalry History, As #3 Wildcats Seek Big Five Sweep Against Owls Today

To the Wildcat faithful-

Here's a concise history of the ancient rivalry between the Wildcats and the Temple Owls...  Today marks the 82nd meeting between the City Series rivals...

Villanova leads all-time, 42-39.  The rivalry is one of the oldest for Villanova, as they faced the Owls twice, during the first-ever season of Wildcats basketball, in 1920-21; the Wildcats swept Temple that year.

A Look at Villanova / Temple, over the Last 17 Years - the Steve Lappas Era and the Jay Wright Era

December 11, 1993 - The old Spectrum - #5 Temple 54, Villanova 49

It was the first time that Lappas had faced Temple as a head coach, although he had previously done so as an assistant to his predecessor, Rollie Massimino.  The Wildcats nearly pulled off a huge upset of the #5 Owls, ultimately falling 54-49.

Eddie Jones had to drill no fewer than three shots near the conclusion of the shot clock, to hold off a Villanova rally led by Kerry Kittles; Jason Lawson's foul-out near the end fatally damaged Villanova's hopes.

December 13, 1995 - The old Spectrum - Temple 62, #2 Villanova 56

Two years later, the tables had turned, and it was Villanova in the top 5 nationally.  The Wildcats, sporting an undefeated 7-0 record and ranked second nationally, had a nucleus Kittles, Lawson, Alvin Williams, Eric Eberz, Jonathan Haynes, and Chuck Kornegay.  They should have easily crushed the Owls, in their final meeting at the old Spectrum, now slated for demolition.  But Temple - which entered the game with a 1-3 record - shocked the Wildcats, with a 62-56 upset on ESPN. 

December 16, 1997 - The Pavilion - Villanova 68, #16 Temple 57

In 1997-98, a rebuilding Villanova team under Lappas, eventually finished under .500 and did not receive a postseason bid for the first time since 1993.  (In fact, right up to the present day, this team was the last Villanova squad to end up with a losing record and with no postseason bid.)

It was the first meeting with Temple in two years, due to Villanova's absence from the round-robin during the 1990s.  The Owls brought a 6-1 record and a #16 ranking into the contest at the Pavilion, facing the 3-4 Wildcats.  But Villanova delighted the packed Pavilion with a stunning 68-57 victory over the Owls.  What made it particularly memorable was the ejection of Temple coach John Chaney at the 15:41 mark of the second half, disputing a foul called on Rasheed Brokenborough.  Temple's backcourt of Brokenborough and Juan "Pepe" Sanchez would shoot just 8-34 for the contest.

Howard Brown and John Celestand - bench players on the #2 team that had been upset, two years earlier - powered the upset.  Brown hit four triples, winding up with 19 points, while Celestand had 16 points and dealt half a dozen assists.  Marvin O'Connor, who eventually transferred to St. Joseph's, came off the bench for a dozen points. 

December 15, 1999 - The Apollo of Temple (now the Liacouras Center) - #17 Temple 69, Villanova 66

This was the first Villanova City Series game, against any opponent, since Villanova announced it would rejoin the full round-robin, at the conclusion of the 1998-99 season.  It also marked the Wildcats' first visit to the then-Apollo of Temple, now the Liacouras Center, which opened in 1997-98.

The Wildcats put up a spirited battle, but the upset bid failed, 69-66, when T.J. Caouette's potential game-tying triple, on a pass from Bobby Smith, didn't go down at the buzzer.  Brian Lynch hit four consecutive three-pointers to get the Wildcats back in the game, and Jermaine Medley had tied the game with a triple, with about a minute to play.  The unlikely hero for Temple was their reserve post player, Ron Rollerson, who came off the bench for a near double-double - nine points, nine rebounds - in only 16 minutes.

December 5, 2000 - The Pavilion - Villanova 69, Temple 62

This was the final time Lappas would face Temple- although nobody knew it at the time. It was the first of the four Big Five games for Michael Bradley, in what became known as the "Bradley year", since the Kentucky transfer was playing his third season of eligibility - and what would be his only year playing for Villanova - that season, as he put up All-American numbers.

Bradley led a charge at the end that propelled the Wildcats to a 69-62 triumph. Medley tied a career-high with 18 points, while Gary Buchanan had 17.  Lynn Greer led Temple with 16 points, to go with nine assists, and grabbed seven rebounds.

December 8, 2001 - The Palestra - Villanova 70, Temple 66

The series returned to the Palestra for the first time in 17 years, as part of the inaugural Big Five Classic - a tripleheader between the six Philadelphia teams.  And, fittingly, it was the first time Jay Wright led the Wildcats into battle against Temple.

The City Series had been rough on the Wildcats thus far; earlier that month, they had fallen to both La Salle at the Pavilion, and Penn at the Palestra - with both losses in overtime. 

In the final game of the evening, the Wildcats and Owls put on a great show for the Palestra crowd, with Villanova edging Temple for a 70-66 victory, in a narrow, thrilling contest.  It was Wright's first Big Five win.

Derrick Snowden nailed the game-winning basket for the Wildcats; he also drained two free throws with six seconds to play to seal it.  Reggie Bryant - who eventually transferred - tied a career-high with 17 points.  Villanova - who had led 50-36 with less than twelve minutes to go - had to fend off an Owls rally late.  Greer turned in an incredible performance, scoring 29 points.

March 22, 2002 - NIT Quarterfinals - The Liacouras Center - Temple 63, Villanova 57

It was the second meeting between Villanova and Temple that season, and it came in the quarterfinals of the NIT.  Villanova was seeking to return to the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden, for the first time since Lappas had led the team to a NIT championship back in 1994.

Greer, the Owls' best player who had averaged over 23 points per game as a senior, had suffered a high ankle sprain in a previous NIT game, and would not be available.  Surely, the Wildcats had a great shot?

But it was not to be.  In a seesaw battle down the stretch, Villanova trailed 59-54 with under a minute to play, but Bryant hit a three to bring the Wildcats within two - he had a game-high 19 points.  Snowden's potential game-tying shot was swatted by Kevin Lyde under the basket; Lyde became only the third Owl to score 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds in his career.

New Year's Eve afternoon, 2002 - The Pavilion - Villanova 70, Temple 62

This game was overshadowed by the Eagles' playoff game with the Atlanta Falcons that night; the Villanova/Temple game, played at 4 PM, was almost overlooked completely.

Temple dragged a 2-6 record into the game, although they had upset #10 Indiana the previous week.  But at the Pavilion, the Owls committed 18 turnovers, a shocking number for a Chaney-coached team.  Buchanan, who scored 10 points of his own, shut down the Owls' leading scorer, Alex Wesby.  Wesby had scored 26 against the Hoosiers; he had three against the Wildcats.

It was the first Temple game for Wright's first heralded recruiting class - Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Curtis Sumpter, and Jason Fraser.  Sumpter featured a dunk in the game, as Villanova made a 7-0 run to salt away the victory.

November 21, 2003 - The Liacouras Center - Villanova 73, Temple 48 - "The Midnight Game"

This was one of the most bizarre games in Big Five history, even by the colorful standards of the City Series.  Due to a very public and controversial scheduling conflict, that the two athletic departments were not able to resolve with other remedies, the game was scheduled to take place at the stroke of midnight on November 21, 2003 - the first day which the NCAA permitted a regular-season game (as opposed to an exempt holiday game or tournament).  17 buses ferry Villanova students to the North Philadelphia facility for the witching-hour contest.

The agreement was brokered, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, at the home of then-Penn coach Fran Dunphy (who, ironically, is now the coach at Temple), between Wright and Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw.  Chaney claims publicly afterward that "if it were up to me, we would never play them, period."

The game was also marred by a Villanova fan throwing a bottle onto the court, soon after tip-off (much like the one thrown by a Maryland fan last Sunday at the Verizon Center in the BB&T Classic).

As for the game itself- Ray and Foye each put up 20 points to pace the Wildcats to an easy victory, further souring Chaney's mood.  Thus, Villanova finally got a win at the Liacouras Center, on its third try.   

December 4, 2004 - The Palestra - Temple 53, Villanova 52

This is Temple's most recent victory in the series, in the Second Big Five Classic.  After hitting two free throws with 12 seconds to play, to bring Villanova within one, Sumpter tries a potential game-winning triple at the buzzer.  When it fails to drop, it permits the Owls to escape with the taut triumph.  Sumpter's 15 points and 13 rebounds lead the Wildcats.  Dustin Salisbery's three-pointer with 1:07 to play, constituted the Owls' final points, and they were just enough to win.

New Year's Eve afternoon, 2005 - The Palestra - #3 Villanova 75, Temple 53

One winter later, Temple once more scores 53 points, but this time, the Owls are on the distant, short end of the final score.  The unbeaten, third-ranked Wildcats have no trouble finishing off the Owls, and avenging the previous year's nailbiter on the same hallowed floor. This was the most recent game at the Palestra.

December 30, 2006 - The Pavilion - Villanova 83, Temple 65

December 9, 2007 - The Liacouras Center - Villanova 101, Temple 93

For the first time in the then-86-year history of the rivalry, the Wildcats break the century mark against the Owls.

December 29, 2008 - The Pavilion - #15 Villanova 62, Temple 45

Another chapter, written this afternoon...

More to come...

Go Wildcats!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Recommended: I Bleed Blue and White / The Owls' Nest Preview for #3 Wildcats @ Temple on Sunday

To the Wildcat faithful-

I'd like to highly recommend the joint Villanova / Temple preview produced by I Bleed Blue and White and The Owls' Nest for Sunday's game.  The Wildcats will be looking to complete yet another sweep of its City Series rivals, at the Liacouras Center...

Some highlights from The Owls' Nest interview:

TON: Temple's defense has arguably been the main reason for the Owls' success this year. How do you expect the Wildcats, with all of those offensive talents, to counter the defensive force on North Broad?

IBBW: More than likely we are going to try and push the tempo. With Mouphtaou Yarou out indefinitely, we don't have a single guy who would classify as slow. Our only true bigs, Antonio Pena and Maurice Sutton, are both phenomenal at staying with the guards on the break and getting back on defense. I'd also expect a heavy dose of our 4-out-1-in offense, in which we try to exploit mismatches by getting our guards matched up against your bigs. A big key will be hitting our shots though. We've been scoring a ton, but we haven't been that efficient. We probably won't have as many opportunities against Temple, so we need to execute.

More to come... 

Go Wildcats!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

War Time King: Taylor's Triples Help #3 Wildcats Vanquish Hawks In Holy War, As They Seal the 97-89 Win at the Palestra

To the Wildcat faithful-

On Wednesday night, the #3 Wildcats met the St. Joseph's Hawks in the 67th Holy War, at the storied Palestra, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  It is the historic home of Big Five basketball, as well as the venue which has hosted more college basketball games (and NCAA tournament games) than any other in the nation.

Villanova led for the entire second half, but had to withstand a furious Hawks rally, down the stretch.  Californian Taylor King, a transfer sophomore from Duke, playing in his first Holy War, hit two triples down the stretch, to end the Hawks' hopes...  The Wildcats vanquished the gallant, overmatched Hawks, 97-89....

Villanova improved to 3-0 City Series, 9-0 overall.  The Hawks fell to 0-1 City Series, 3-5 overall.  It was the City Series opener for the Hawks; the Wildcats had crushed Penn and defeated La Salle at the Pavilion,  back in November...

Some New Historical Numbers, in the Aftermath of the Villanova Victory

The Wildcats are now 43-24, all-time, against the Hawks, and 32-23 as members of the Big Five.
But at the Palestra, the Wildcats still trail, 20-18, to the Hawks.  (Villanova would need to win the next three Palestra games to take the lead, so it probably can't happen until the 2015-2016 season, with the game there only every other year).  Of the last 39 games, the Wildcats hold a commanding 27-12 advantage.

Jay Wright is now 6-3 against SJU.

Villanova has now won 21 of its last 22 City Series games; the lone exception was in February 2008, a 22-point loss to the Hawks at the Palestra.

Villanova is now 120-83 in Big Five games, the best percentage of any school; SJU is in third place, narrowly behind Temple, with a 113-88 record mark.

Although the Wildcats came into the game with an unblemished record, and a lofty national ranking, the proverbial truth is that "when the Big Five is concerned, throw out the records."  That was certainly true this evening, as it often is.  SJU came into the game with four straight losses - all on the road - to #7 Purdue, DePaul, Rider, and Cornell.  But the Hawks made a spirited attempt at an upset tonight.  Had the basketball gods yielded Martelli and the Hawks a few better bounces, as well as more depth, it might have happened.

The Hawks' upset bid was further fueled by the highly partisan crowd, as Villanova received only about 350 or so of the 8,700 + capacity Palestra.  Only five years removed from a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and Elite Eight appearance, and with a newly renovated home court on its campus, the Hawks remain a potential threat to Villanova, any time that the two schools meet.  They nearly upset the Wildcats at the Pavilion, last December, as well.

Looking at the Box Score

Scottie Reynolds played in his final Holy War last night, and he made it one to remember.  The senior superstar finished with a team-high 22 points, half a dozen rebounds, five assists, four steals and a (rare) blocked shot.  The only downside were his six turnovers, but he more than made up for it.  Among the most important contribution was his 12-14 at the line...

King came off the bench, once more, to log 27 minutes.  He finished with 20 points, narrowly missing a double-double with nine rebounds.  He was 7-15 from the floor and 4-8 from three-point range, with the final two triples devastating the Hawks' hopes.

Antonio Pena fell into foul trouble, which limited him to 25 minutes, but when he was on the floor, St. Joe's had very few answers for him.  Pena finished with 15 points on 5-8 shooting, as well as seven rebounds.

Corey Fisher also struggled with foul trouble, and he eventually fouled out, so he saw only 29 minutes.  He had a very rough shooting night (2/8 from the floor), but he was money at the foul line, converting all eight of his attempts, and winding up with 13 points.

Maalik Wayns emerged from the bench, to score 9 points in only 18 minutes.

What were the Keys to the Villanova Victory?

Free Throw Shooting.  The Wildcats got to the line early and often last night.  They took 40 free throws attempts and made all but five, a stellar 87.5%, and it was the difference maker.

Accurate Three-point Shooting.  Villanova hit 42.1% of their three-pointers, which was vitally important.  Although SJU does not have a dominant big man, the Wildcats were already shorthanded without Youph, and Pena got into foul trouble early.  The Wildcats had to rely on the three-point shot more heavily than normal, when they face SJU, but they made enough of them to keep themselves ahead, especially the two from King at crunch time. 

Rebounding.  The Wildcats - faster, deeper, and bigger, at least when they aren't in foul trouble - outrebounded the Hawks, 42-31. 

The St. Joseph's Side of the Box Score

Phil Martelli and his Hawks have some talent, and their best players brought it last night.  Junior Idris Hilliard had a career-high 22 points to lead the Hawks, in a superb all-around performance.  He was perfect from the floor, making all five of his shots, and nearly perfect at the line, where he made all but one of 13 attempts.

Senior Darrin Govens, playing in his final Holy War, finished with 19 points on 7/13 shooting, four rebounds, and three assists.  Fellow senior Garrett Williamson was hampered by foul trouble, which eventually sent him to the bench, but nonetheless ended up with 13 points on 3/8 shooting, as well as seven assists against three turnovers.

Freshman Carl Jones, playing in his first Holy War, added 16 points on 5/10 shooting, including three triples.

The Game Action

Had SJU won this game - with Villanova unbeaten and ranked #3 nationally, and the Hawks themselves just 3-4 - it undoubtedly would have been one of the biggest upsets, in the lengthy history of the rivalry.  With so much at stake, the Hawks were loaded for bear, so to speak, and it was a very raucous atmosphere in the ancient basketball cathedral on the Penn campus. 

The first half was very exciting, and well played.  There were four ties and six lead changes, as the Hawks stubbornly hung around.  They wouldn't permit Villanova to pull away and take the full-throated crowd out of the game.  The Wildcats sagged with foul trouble - four players had two fouls by halftime - and although Villanova has the bench to sustain itself through those stretches, it kept SJU in the game.  And the longer they were in the game, the longer they felt that they had a chance for an upset.  Although the final margin was relatively wide at nine points, the crowd was so loud, especially down the stretch, that the Hawks could very well have stolen this one at the end.

The Wildcats got some momentum to end the half, when on their final possession, the Hawks ran the shot clock down to zero and missed a shot; King rebounded it, fired up to Stokes in transition, who in turn fired it to Maurice Sutton for an easy, undisputed dunk, giving the Wildcats the 41-38 lead at halftime.  It had been a group effort for the Wildcats, which saw nine different players score just in the first half.  Villanova owned a 29-19 rebounding edge, which would continue.

It appeared, at the outset of the second half, that the Wildcats might pull away.  Villanova went on a run to make it 55-47 after a floater from Wayns on a 4-on-1 break, forcing Phil Martelli to use a timeout.  The Wildcats started to edge their lead into double digits, and might have put the Hawks away.  After King's mishap on the dunk (more on that below), Villanova still had a 73-62 lead, with less than seven minutes to play.

But the Hawks counterattacked, with the echoes of the rafters urging them on, and so no Villanova fan felt secure until it was over.  It would take clutch free throw shooting, as well as two knockout threes from King, to finally hold off the Hawks' surge.  

Final score - Villanova 97, St. Joseph's 89 - the largest combined total of points in the entire history of the rivalry, I believe.

I must credit ESPN, as well as its broadcasters Dave Pasch and Big Five veteran Bill Raftery (La Salle) for their outstanding performance, in bringing the Palestra into our respective living rooms.  The Holy War is often their only Palestra telecast of a season (and it's only there, every other year), and so they pack as much of its illustrious, fabled history into the broadcast as they can.  If I had never been to the Palestra, I certainly would want to see a game there, after seeing the game last night.  There were many shots of the various and sundry basketball shrines in the hallways, snippets of interviews with Wright discussing his cherishing of the traditions, his efforts to explain it to the Wildcats newcomers.  As Wright had put it - "Until you play a game here, you can't really understand it; but once you have, you never forget it." 

Witticisms from Raf: 

On former Wildcat coaching legend Rollie Massimino, when Pasch had said that Wright had "learned the game from Rollie's lap," he added, "Rollie taught him how to dress, too, but he'll never admit it."

When Wright was showing some of the Wildcats the displays on the Palestra concourse, dressed in a sweatsuit, Raf claimed that "that's one of the four or five outfits he's tried on today." 

After a controversial traveling call on Villanova, he noted wryly, "I stay away from walks on Villanova."  (The reference was to the 2005 NCAA Sweet 16 loss to North Carolina, where Allan Ray's traveling violation was the final roadblock to a Villanova rally against the top seed and eventual national champion; Raf had praised the call at the time.)

After King had the extreme misfortune, to be rejected - literally - by the rim, on an easy breakaway dunk attempt in the second half, Raf noted: "A little egg on the brow..."

Final note - the Wildcat sported a red Santa hat in the win over Maryland in Washington, DC, on Sunday.  Last night, he was wearing a navy blue, Block V Villanova Santa hat. 

Next Up for the Wildcats 

Villanova continues City Series play on Sunday against Temple, at 3:30 PM, and will seek to sweep the Big Five once more...  Please check the outstanding Villanova blogs on the sidebar for recaps of last night's game, as well as previews for Temple...

Go Wildcats!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

An Updated History of the Holy War - The Villanova / St. Joseph's Rivalry Resumes at the Palestra Tonight

To the Wildcat faithful- 

Villanova leads the all-time series, 42-24. As members of the Big Five, the margin is considerably narrower: 31-23. Villanova had won eleven of the twelve meetings since the first game took place in 1921, until the formation of the Big Five in the 1955-56 season. 'Nova has done well in recent years, winning nine of the last dozen contests. Most of the SJU victories came during the 1950s and 1960s; Villanova is 26-12 over the last three decades or so.

This year and last year have marked a departure from the previous scheduling in February.  The telecast had often been featured on ESPN and ESPN2; the ESPN networks had featured the Holy War as part of their "Rivalry Week" series in that month. 

The Origin of the Series, Prior to the Formation of the Big Five

Villanova played SJU (then St. Joseph's College) twice, during the Wildcats' first ever season on the hardwood, which took place during the 1920-21 school year. The first contest took place on January 15, 1921, on the Main Line, with 'Nova winning 31-22. In the return game, Villanova completed the sweep by prevailing 24-14. The teams clashed often during the 1920s, but after the 1930 game, the series lay dormant for a long time. In the ensuing quarter-century, the only meeting was in 1939. As to why two proximate Catholic schools would go so long without meeting - can't figure it out.

But when the Big Five got rolling, it was SJU's turn to dominate the series. The Hawks won the first six City Series games and ten of the first twelve. The two schools had the honor of clashing in the first-ever Big Five contest at the Palestra, on December 14, 1955- St. Joe's won, 83-70. Surprisingly, the public did not seem all that interested in the game, as a paltry 2,636 spectators showed up for the historic inaugural. Villanova was ordinary that year, finishing at 14-12, but St. Joe's went 25-6 and reached the NIT semifinals.

The lack of interest is even more surprising, in light of the fact that starting with the 1958 game, every single VU/SJU game attracted a sellout or near-sellout crowd at the Palestra, with the high attendance continuous for all games since then, regardless of venue. The attendance for the 1957 game climbed to 5,659, but then the Palestra was packed to the rafters for Villanova/St. Joe's.

Some Memorable Games in the Series (Villanova victories in light blue, St. Joseph's victories in crimson)

February 12, 1958

Villanova loses to St. Joe's, 86-82, in overtime, after failing to hold a 17 point lead.

January 28, 1961

St. Joe's was a powerhouse, and would finish with a 25-5 record under Jack Ramsay
, a deep NCAA tournament run, and a City Series sweep. In the last season for legendary coach Alexander Severance, Villanova would finish winless in City Series play and with a dismal 11-13 record. But the Wildcats nearly pulled off a huge upset, losing only 64-63.

March 3, 1962

New coach Jack Kraft leads the Wildcats to their first-ever City Series victory over the Hawks, prevailing 66-59. The victory gives Villanova its first City Series sweep, with Hubie White leading the way with 23 points and 17 rebounds. Both teams went on to the NCAA tournament, in an era when the tournament field was very small.

February 20, 1965

This was the most titanic clash in Holy War history, as in no other year have both schools simultaneously posted such gaudy records. St. Joe's would finish at 26-3, with a 4-0 City Series sweep, and reach the NCAA tournament. Villanova would finish at 23-5 and reach the NIT semifinals. And when they met head-to-head, there was a bizarre incident - a bomb scare at the Palestra. 

According to a perhaps legendary tale, radio broadcaster Les Keiter refused to go off the air during the threat, announcing his intention to stay there all night if necessary. It turned out to be a false alarm, and the Hawks won, 69-62.

January 16, 1966

In one of the most written about Big Five finishes, Hawk substitute Steve Donches
connects on a 29-footer at the buzzer to give SJU a 71-69 victory.

January 11, 1969

The legendary Wildcat center Howard Porter turns in one of his most incredible performances, scoring 36 points and grabbing 26 rebounds to help Villanova blow out St. Joe's, 87-62. The 25 point margin was Villanova's most lopsided victory in the series to that point. The performance helps propel Porter to a share of the Geasey Award (the Big Five MVP) with La Salle's Ken Durrett.

February 20, 1971/March 13, 1971

In Villanova's second-greatest season, the Porter-led Wildcats will go 23-6 and reach the NCAA championship game before bowing to John Wooden's UCLA dynasty. But en route, they meet St. Joe's twice in one season, for the first time since 1923. In the City Series game, Villanova triumphs 63-55, although Hawks center Mike Bantom
outplays Porter.

The schools would meet again at the Palestra, in the first round of the NCAA tournament (the only time, before or since, the Holy War has extended to postseason play). 'Nova won in a rout, 93-75.

January 27, 1973

In Kraft's final season, Villanova scuffled to a rare losing record at 11-14. St. Joe's went 22-6 and to the NCAA tournament. But the Wildcats shocked the heavily favored Hawks, 79-72, with 43 points coming from Tom Ingelsby- the Geasey winner - and Ed Hastings.

February 22, 1975

Rollie Massimino wins his first game against the Hawks: Larry and Keith Herron each score 19 points in Villanova's 71-67 victory. The attraction of the rivalry was quite evident at this point. Villanova and St. Joe's finished with disastrous 9-18 and 8-17 records, respectively. La Salle and Penn had fantastic seasons, in contrast. But Villanova/St. Joe's drew 9,233 fans, the 3rd-highest total of the ten City Series contests. (Penn/Villanova and Penn/La Salle were the only others to draw more than 7,300).

February 19, 1977

The first City Series game away from the Palestra, as the Villanova/St. Joe's game goes to the Spectrum, to accommodate more fans for both schools. The Wildcats win 92-78, in front of 12,138 fans.

February 23, 1980

For the first time, the Wildcats and Hawks meet while both squads are 3-0 in City Series play. In front of a sold-out Palestra, the Hawks came away with a narrow 60-59 victory to give St. Joe's its first City Series title since 1968.

February 22, 1983

In the second Spectrum game in the series, a record throng of 18,060 witnesses a 70-62 Wildcat victory, the most to ever witness a Holy War.

February 19, 1985

It was the annus mirabilis (in Latin, the "year of miracles") on the Main Line. And perhaps the basketball gods' first sign of favor took place at the Spectrum, in the Holy War.

Villanova entered the game having lost three in a row, while the Hawks had won nine straight. Villanova was 3-0 in City Series play, but SJU was 1-1 and could pursue a share of the Big Five title with a victory over the 'Cats. 'Nova started the game on a 9-2 run, but by halftime the Hawks had overtaken them, 22-19. St. Joe's led 30-23 with 14:18 to go, before 'Nova rallied. Ed Pinckney connected on two free throws to draw the Wildcats even at 44 with 3:08 to play.

It seems odd to write this today, in the era of the shot clock, but SJU nearly succeeded in holding the ball for three minutes to take the last shot. Dwayne McClain rebounded the errant St. Joe's shot with only four seconds to go. On the inbounds play, McClain hit a 18-footer and was fouled. By converting the three-point play, McClain gave Villanova a 47-44 victory- and the outright Big Five title for the first time since 1967.

McClain's 18 points and Harold Pressley's 14 points paced 'Nova, as they each went 7-11 from the floor.
Rodney Blake
led the Hawks with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

February 19, 1987

"Daddy Mass" had the chance to win his 300th game against the Hawks. It took double overtime at the Palestra, but the Wildcats finally delivered an 88-87 victory. (Once a perennial fixture at the Palestra, it would be the last Holy War at the basketball cathedral for over seven years, until December 1994).

December 12, 1988

The Hawks soar into the Pavilion for the first time ever, facing a powerful Wildcat squad that would reach the Elite Eight come March. But the heavy-underdog Hawks pull off a 53-52 upset over Doug West, Mark Plansky and Tom Greis, thanks to a 15-foot bank shot by the obscure "Pick" Brown.
(Villanova finished the season at 24-13, the Hawks at 15-14.)

December 18, 1994

The Holy War, now taking place every other year due to Villanova's 1991-99 withdrawal from the full round-robin, returns to the Palestra for the first time in over six years. #22 Villanova - at the apex of the Kerry Kittles era - is a heavy favorite over a small, slow St. Joe's squad. (The Hawks hadn't reached postseason play since 1986.) 

But Dmitri Domani hits two key free throws down the stretch, to give St. Joe's a 60-57 upset victory. Kittles graduates as the first Wildcat superstar since the 1950s, to never beat St. Joe's (albeit with only two opportunities, rather than four).

Although nobody knew it at the time, it would be the last Holy War for SJU coach John Griffin, who also had been a Hawk player; he resigned at the end of the season, and was replaced by one of his longtime assistants, Phil Martelli. However, St. Joe's would not defeat Villanova again, for another decade.

December 23, 1996

At Christmas time, Villanova coach Steve Lappas, as well as stars Alvin Williams and Jason Lawson, finally defeat St. Joe's. The #10 Wildcats had only one disadvantage - the absence of freshman sensation Tim Thomas, sidelined with an injury. After struggling in the first half, the Wildcats go on a 24-3 run in the second half to win easily, 81-65. (There is a huge Pavilion crowd of 6,672, including a healthy number of Hawk partisans able to obtain tickets, with the VU students on break.)

The victory looks more significant in light of subsequent events than it seemed at the time. St. Joe's - which hadn't been to the NCAA tournament in over a decade - went on to a highly unexpected 26-7 season and Sweet 16 appearance. However, at the time, the 'Nova victory was considered routine, given the Wildcats' vast advantages in talent (even with Thomas out).

December 1, 1998 -

The Wildcats make it two in a row over the Hawks, 61-49, thanks to 15 points each from seniors Howard Brown and Rafal Bigus. Brown punctuates the game with several acrobatic feats, including a highly memorable tip dunk.

February 17, 2000 - Pavilion

This was the first Holy War to take place, after the joyous announcement during the previous off-season, that Villanova would resume participation in the full-round robin, starting with the 1999-2000 season. 

The Wildcats had been absent from the round-robin, beginning with the 1991-92 season, an eight-year absence.

Marvin O'Connor,
who transferred from 'Nova to St. Joe's after his freshman season of 1997-98, takes on his former teammates for the first time. (Intra-Big Five transfers are rare.) O'Connor leads the Hawks with 20 points, but on only 8-24 shooting. Gary Buchanan singlehandedly gives the Wildcats a hard-fought, 68-61 victory, with a 24 point outburst.

December 11, 2000

The Holy War returns to the Palestra. St. Joe's comes close to its long-denied victory over the Wildcats, leading 39-32 at intermission. O'Connor dazzles with 32 points on 11-17 shooting to lead the Hawks. But 'Nova rallies in the second half to come away with a hard-fought, thrilling 78-75 victory. Michael Bradley has a field day in the paint, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Reggie Bryant and Aaron Matthews add 13 for the 'Cats.

February 2002 - Pavilion

In the first Holy War under Jay Wright, Villanova eviscerated SJU at the Pavilion, 102-73, the largest margin of victory for either side in the then-81 year history of the series. Gary Buchanan led the way with 28 points, including a career-high seven three-pointers.

February 2003 - Palestra

Martelli had been the most successful coach at SJU since Jack Ramsay
, having won Atlantic 10 titles and reached a Sweet 16 in 1997. He defeated Villanova for the first time in six tries, as the Hawks humiliated the 'Cats, 92-75, at the Palestra. Incredibly, the 17-point final margin does not accurately reflect, how lopsided the game actually was.

During the first eight minutes, the Wildcats committed 15 turnovers and scored three baskets. The Hawks started the contest on a 40-9 run - and the 17-point deficit was actually the closest Villanova drew after that, during the entire game. (One particularly zealous Hawk partisan actually had the opening run immortalized on his Pennsylvania license plate: "SJ40-VU9".)

Jameer Nelson had 30 points to lead the Hawks. Delonte West,
who had been the lead story entering the game, after media reports surfaced regarding an altercation he had allegedly had with the SJU trainer, did not start as a result. But playing 26 minutes, he scored 25 points.

February 2004

The #3 Hawks entered the Pavilion soaring as high as they ever have, bringing an unblemished 18-0 mark into the game; they would eventually garner a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and reach the Elite Eight. However, the Wildcats substantially improved upon the sorry spectacle of the previous year. The overmatched Wildcats fought admirably before finally falling, 74-67.

Nelson and West combined for 45 points, but Mike Nardi led the Wildcat counterattack with 16 points and five assists. A three-pointer from Andreas Bloch cut the Hawk lead to 54-50, with less than nine minutes to play, before what had to have been one of the largest crowds in Pavilion history. But that was as close as 'Nova came to an upset.

February 2005

By a remarkable twist of fate, Super Bowl XXXIX between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots is scheduled for the previous day. And so Holy War LXII is relegated to the back burner. Lost amidst the avalanche of Super Bowl coverage, it was the probably the least hyped battle between the two schools since the formation of the Big Five.

VU was enjoying its first great year, under Jay Wright, and entered the contest with a #22 ranking. SJU was coming off a remarkable season in which they were undefeated until the Atlantic 10 tournament and ranked #1 for a week. The Hawks had reached the Elite Eight (moreover, coming within a Jameer Nelson shot of reaching the Final Four), and with both teams enjoying a renaissance, it should have had the makings of a fantastic contest.

However, the melancholia of the crowd (for both teams) was too much to overcome. The Patriots' vanquishing of the Eagles, on the previous evening, cast a funereal pall over the proceedings, like a vast, billowing fog through which no other sporting event could shine.

And as it turned out, the game wasn't all that good, anyway. The Wildcats were never challenged in a slow, foul-marred game, which they won, 67-52. Jason Fraser had arguably the finest game of his star-crossed career, coming off the bench to score 14 points, grab 14 rebounds and block two shots, despite being hampered by a heavily bandaged hand and playing only 29 minutes. 

The Hawks' Pat Carroll, a superb outside shooter, would miss his first 13 shots, as SJU had mustered only 20 points with less than 14 minutes to play.

Finally, the Hawks' band would play, during garbage time, a mournful version of "Fly, Eagles, Fly", accurately reflecting what was on the mind of the Palestra crowd... 

February 7, 2006 - Palestra

It was the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the Big Five. And as fate would have it, both teams entered the sold-out, packed-beyond-capacity Palestra, with perfect 3-0 City Series marks: the winner would take the 50th Big Five title. This represented only the fourth time in the Big Five's half-century history, that two schools would enter a City Series contest, with both having 3-0 records.

And despite a terrible first half, Villanova ended up withe the chance to savor another City Series sweep. Despite the unavailability of a tonsillitis-stricken Mike Nardi, the #4 Wildcats were heavy favorites over the Hawks. And so there was much astonishment in the venerable building, when St. Joseph's dominated the first half. Villanova was trailing by double-digits, 34-22, at halftime.

But Villanova rallied to defeat the Hawks, 71-58, for the second year in a row, capturing the City Series crown. "Nova annihilated SJU after intermission, winning the second half by more than doubling up the Hawks, 49-24. The Wildcats shot a stunning 68% in the second half, after scuffling to an anemic 30% in the first half.  

Kyle Lowry, playing in his second (and since he ultimately left early for the NBA, final) contest with SJU, scored 25 points, including 17 in the second-half counterattack, which featured a 21-3 Wildcats run. The gifted senior backcourt of Allan Ray and Randy Foye also contributed 14 points apiece. For SJU, Chet Stachitas had 19 points, with Abdulai Jalloh adding 15 points and Dwayne Lee recording 11 points. 

February 6, 2007 - Pavilion 

Villanova 56, St. Joseph's 39 

The Hawks are held to their lowest Holy War total in 68 years, as Villanova completes a City Series sweep - read my full game story here.  

February 4, 2008 - Palestra 

St. Joseph's 77, Villanova 55  

St. Joseph's prevents Villanova from sweeping the City Series, with a 77-55 victory.  Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson each score 20 points to lead the Hawks, while Darrin Govens adds 16; Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds score a dozen points apiece, for the Wildcats. 

December 11, 2008 - Pavilion 

#12 Villanova 59, St. Joseph's 56 

The Wildcats rally from a 35-26 halftime deficit against the underdog Hawks, triumphing 59-56.  Reynolds scores 18 points, including the winning free throws with 4.8 seconds to play, to cap the comeback.  Govens has 18 points to lead the Hawks. 

Another chapter written, tomorrow night, at the Palestra.  I'm going to be adding some new content to this, so please check back... 

For a preview - I recommend VUHoops' Holy War Preview 67.0... - 

Go Wildcats!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

#3 Wildcats Top Terrapins with a Terrible, Attenuated Ending, 95-86, in BB&T Classic

To the Wildcat faithful-

This was only the fourth time that Villanova and Maryland have faced each other, and the first time since 1986.  In previous posts, I discussed the enormous historical importance, of the three previous games in Villanova history - two meetings during the magical 1985 national championship season, and the first game ever at the Pavilion in 1986.

(Above - Testudo, the Maryland Terrapin, was one of the few positive aspects of watching this game.  The Wildcat, for his part, got into the Christmas spirit, sporting a Santa hat, on the floor of the Verizon Center.)

Well, this game will not be joining those, in the Villanova lore.  Most decidedly, in fact.  But, at least, it was for charity.

The Wildcats and Terrapins battled in an ugly, foul-marred, brick-laying contest, with #3 Villanova prevailing, 95-86.  The teams combined to commit an appalling 47 fouls, many coming down the stretch - and ironically, committed by the Wildcats, the team holding the big lead.   At one point in this stretch, Antonio Pena lost his footing at the other end of the court, and was fortunate not to sprain an ankle, likely due to moisture on that spot.

Nor was the ugliness confined to the players on the court.  One spectator had the temerity, audacity, and stupidity, to throw a plastic beer bottle onto the floor, at the 8:13 mark of the second half, due to his annoyance at one of the 23 fouls whistled on Maryland.  Fortunately, the culprit was identified by other fans, and ejected quickly from the Verizon Center.  Naturally, the game was halted for a while, so that the bottle and its contents could be scrubbed off the floor (with Scottie Reynolds helpfully scrubbing, alongside the kid with the mop).   The unseemly episode seemed to epitomize the evening.    It wasn't pretty.

The coaches didn't help, either.  Gary Williams ordered a foul committed, with ten seconds to play and Maryland trailing by seven; Jay Wright called a timeout with 16.5 seconds to play and his team ahead by seven.

But a win's a win.  This was a major test for Villanova; a de facto road game against a quality opponent, a Maryland squad that started the season in the Top 25.  The Wildcats were in control for most of the game, and improved to 8-0 overall.  Maryland fell to 5-3 overall.

What were the keys to the Villanova victory?

The biggest one was offensive rebounding.  The Wildcats clobbered the Terrapins on the glass, outrebounding them 20-7 on the offensive end, and 45-33 overall.  Another was turnovers; the teams combined for 33 turnovers, but Villanova forced 19 of them.

As a result of the extra possessions, generated by offensive rebounds and turnovers, the Wildcats took 75 field goal attempts to Maryland's 53, a stunning disparity, and it was what permitted Villanova to score 95 points and hold a lead throughout the contest.

This was particularly important, on the number of three-point shots.  The Wildcats took an astonishing 39 three-point attempts, and made 16 of them, a 41% success rate.  The 39 three-point attempts are a school record, and the 15 three-point field goals are only one short of the school record.  The old record for attempts was 38, against Minnesota on November 25, 1994.  The record of 16 three-pointers was set against Lehigh on November 27, 2005.

Looking at the Box Score

Reynolds - returning to his native, Washington, DC area - had a team-high 25 points, while playing all but two minutes of the contest.  He did so on 7/18 shooting overall and 3/10 from beyond the arc, and converted eight of 11 free throws.  He also dealt eight assists against five turnovers, and grabbed five rebounds, while staying out of foul trouble (not easy to do, tonight).

Both Coreys also had big nights for the Wildcats.  Fisher had 20 points on 6/13 shooting, including a superb 4/6 from three-point range, and threw in four rebounds, two steals, and two assists against one turnover.

Stokes also delivered significantly for Villanova.  The Bayonne Bomber returned to form, dropping 18 points on 6/13 shooting overall, and 5/11 from beyond the arc, plus three rebounds and three assists, prior to fouling out - he saw 31 minutes. 

Taylor King came off the bench for 13 points. He had a rough shooting night (5/17 from the floor) but made up for it with three triples in eight attempts.  He also threw in half a dozen rebounds and three steals, in his 30 minutes. 

Pena continues to solidify his role as a vital cog in the Villanova frontcourt, as he finished with eight points and 11 rebounds, another solid performance.

Maurice Sutton was able to absorb five fouls, and provide some defense, but he fouled out, having played just 17 minutes.

The Maryland Side of the Box Score

The Terrapins have a high-octane offense, a fact amply attested to by the 86 points, which they did with just 53 shots.  Maryland shot 52.8% from the floor and 47.4% from three-point range, which will win you most games.  They could not overcome, however, their high turnover rate and their inability to keep Villanova from getting second chance points.

Sean Mosley was named the P.F. Chang's Hungriest Player of the Game (a plug for the restaurant chain, which I've decided to include simply because I think the title is a good gimmick), which he undoubtedly deserved.  Mosley torched the Villanova defense for a career-high 26 points on torrid 11/14 shooting from the floor.

Eric Hayes also had a season-high 20 points, on 6/13 shooting, including five triples in nine attempts.

Jordan Williams posted a double-double with 19 points and a dozen rebounds.

However, the Terrapins' best player, Greivis Vasquez, did not have a strong performance, and was another reason for the Villanova victory.  Vasquez was effectively contained by the Wildcats defense.  He finished with a dozen points on 3/9 shooting, and foul trouble limited him to 27 minutes.  He dealt seven assists, but also committed seven turnovers.  Late in the game, his fifth foul came on a Villanova inbounds play, before the whistle even blew, a very poor choice on his part, and his exit probably sealed Maryland's fate...

We will have the chance to face Maryland again next season, most likely at the Wachovia Center.  In addition to providing Villanova with a quality, marquee opponent at home next season, Maryland is a fun team to write about.  In addition to having a turtle as a mascot (among the most distinctive in the NCAA), the colors of the Maryland uniforms are also particularly cool.  The red and white, with the black and gold piping and trim, represent the colors of the Maryland state flag, the most vivid of any of the 50 states. 

Next Up for the Wildcats

The Wildcats next take on St. Joseph's in the annual Holy War, at the Palestra.  The history of the Holy War will be upcoming this week, so check back...

For more on the Maryland game - Brian at I Bleed Blue and White has Post Game Notes.... and check out the other fine Villanova blogs on the sidebar...

Go Wildcats!

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#3 Wildcats @ Maryland in 15th Annual BB&T Classic - Preview - Sunday, December 6, 7:30 PM

To the Wildcat faithful-

Yesterday, I took a detailed look, at the short history of the Villanova / Maryland series.  Although it consists of only three games, all three play a large role in Villanova basketball history...

Also, apparently there will be a fifth game of the history, in 2010-11.  According to the Maryland blog Turtle Waxing's Twitter page, Maryland coach Gary Williams indicated on his radio show that the Terrapins will be coming up 95 to take on the Wildcats next season (presumably at the Wachovia Center.)

(Above - Testudo, the formal name of the Maryland Terrapin.)

Today, I'll analyze Sunday night's contest at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  This game is a de facto home game for the Terrapins, as it is played near the College Park campus, in suburban Maryland - much in the same way that the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia serves a de facto home court for the Wildcats.

The 15th Annual BB&T Classic

The Wildcats and Terrapins will be battling in the second half of the doubleheader.  The first game, scheduled to tip-off at 5:00 PM Sunday, will match George Washington, located in DC, against Navy, located in Annapolis, Maryland.  Villanova is the only non-DC sphere of influence school involved.

The BB&T Classic was launched as a charity event in 1995, largely through the efforts of the prominent sports journalist John Feinstein, a Duke graduate based in the DC area.  Its original title was the Franklin National Bank Classic.  It has varied in format over the years - sometimes a tournament, other times a doubleheader or tripleheader- but the basics have remained the same.  Both Maryland and George Washington have participated in all 15 BB&T Classics, since its inception.  I speculate that Feinstein, an admirer of the Big Five in Philadelphia, used it as the model for the Classic.

The Viewpoint on the Maryland Terrapins

Maryland coach Gary Williams is from the Philadelphia area.  He grew up in Collingswood, NJ, and attended Big Five games at the Palestra.  He originally hoped to play for Penn, but ultimately ended up playing at Maryland.  A long coaching odyssey ensued, in which he would coach at Boston College and Ohio State before returning to his alma mater.  When he came back to take over the reins, he inherited a program in shambles, as the result of NCAA probation, due to extreme corruption and violations committed by his two predecessors.  In a remarkable resuscitation, he took the Terrapins to their first Final Four in 2001, and their first national title in 2002.

It didn't come easily, though.  Williams arrived in 1990, amidst the wreckage of probation, and his first four seasons, in no small part due to life in the rugged ACC - were very difficult.  The program turned the corner in 1994, when the Terrapins reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in six seasons, as a #10 seed - and made it to the Sweet 16, to boot.

The 1994 Sweet 16 was the first of 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the Terrapins.  Prior to the 2001 season, Williams had gotten to the Sweet 16 four times in six appearances, but Maryland had received many high seeds, and had yet to get past that round.

In 2001, they reached the Final Four, where they faced archrival Duke.  The Terrapins were not able to hold an enormous first-half lead, and fell to the Blue Devils, the eventual winner.  But they made up for it the following season, when they brought the national championship back to College Park.

The Terrapins returned to the tournament in 2003 and 2004, making it 11 appearances in a row.  In that span were seven Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and a national title.

Maryland's stature as a national titan, however, has eroded over the last five years.  In both 2005 and 2006, Maryland went 19-13 and headed to the NIT.  In 2007, the Terrapins finished the season in the Top 25, garnering a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament, but were eliminated in the second round.  In 2008, Maryland went 8-8 in the ACC, but did not receive an NCAA bid.  And last season, Maryland was very much a bubble team, finishing with a 7-9 record in the ACC, 20-13 overall.  (The previous year, an 8-8 conference mark had only brought a NIT bid).

The Terrapins did secure an at-large bid, last season, sliding in as a #10 seed.  In my personal opinion, when I went through the bracketology, I thought that Maryland deserved the bid, but the Terrapins were certainly sweating out Selection Sunday, with a RPI of 55.  The Terrapins upset #7 California in the first round, but they were eliminated in the second #2 Memphis.

Of course, Maryland remains a very difficult opponent with a very talented coach, and the Terrapins will be a challenge for Villanova.

Maryland, nationally ranked earlier this season, brings a 5-2 record overall into the game.  The Terrapins breezed past three opponents in College Park, walloping Charleston Southern, Fairfield, and New Hampshire by wide margins.  Maryland - then ranked #21 - participated in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, topping host Chaminade in the opener.  The Terrapins subsequently fell to Cincinnati and Wisconsin in the later rounds.  Their last game was a victory @ Indiana, their fifth victory of the year.

I would not put too much stock in four of the victories, as the intriguing Maryland blog Turtle Soup wrote in its basketball preview:
Easy Wins aka Cupcakes aka Teams that if we lose to will cause me to put a hole through my flatscreen TV

(Note: I realize that we have lost to cupcakes in each of the last two years so my flatscreen is not feeling safe right now)

The author included the aforementioned Charleston Southern, Fairfield, New Hampshire, and Chaminade, in the group.  For further reading on Maryland, I'd recommend the full preview, which provides a great overview of the overall expectations and analysis for the Terrapins this season.  

In the preseason ACC poll, the Terrapins were projected to finish fifth in the 12-team conference, which seems to dovetail well with their record and ranking.  The big gun is Greivis Vasquez, a senior guard, who was named pre-season All-Conference, and who came in second in voting for the Preseason ACC Player of the Year. 

Ironically, three of Villanova's most recent players were recruited out of Maryland's backyard - two members of the Class of 2009- Dante Cunningham, now with the Portland Trail Blazers, and his good friend Dwayne Anderson, were both from Silver Spring, Maryland.   Also, current standout Scottie Reynolds is from Herndon, Virginia, on the other side of the Potomac.

Other Previews 

VUHoops has a great collection of links from other sportswriters on Villanova / Maryland...

I Bleed Blue and White has preGame Villanova / Maryland...

And for a fresh, outsider's look on Villanova, I'd recommend this preview from the Washington Post...

I'll have a full recap after the game. 

Also, a hearty congratulations to the Villanova football team, who throttled New Hampshire, 46-7, yesterday, in blizzard-like conditions at Villanova Stadium, to advance to the next round of the national playoffs....

Go Wildcats!