Wednesday, February 11, 2009

#13 Villanova Crushes #10 Marquette, 102-84, At Pavilion - Topping Century Mark Again! (Full Recap)

The #13 Villanova Wildcats crushed the #10 Marquette Golden Eagles on Tuesday, February 10, 2009, in front of the 93rd consecutive sellout (and raucous) crowd at the Pavilion. The final was a shocking 102-84 shelling of Marquette, and is the latest manifestation of what is now a three-game explosion of points from the 'Cats. They hung 102 points on nationally ranked Syracuse on Saturday, as well as winning a narrow 94-91 decision @ Providence earlier last week.

Villanova has now scored 298 points in three consecutive Big East games, in all of which they faced quality opponents. While I wouldn't be expecting to clear the century mark all the time, let alone in the Big East, hopefully this offensive super 'Nova will continue to explode throughout the college basketball universe. This outcome undoubtedly raised some eyebrows around the country - #10 Marquette yielding 102 points? After 'Nova just did the same thing to Syracuse three days earlier?

Some more good news, on the subject of streaks:

It was Villanova's seventh consecutive victory, and its third straight against a Top 25 opponent. Another streak extended was their now 26-game unbeaten run at the Pavilion. Villanova's last loss at the Pavilion was to DePaul on January 6, 2007. The first game of the streak was a win over Notre Dame, by the score of 102-87, ironically, on January 17, 2007.

This game against a top 10 opponent was as formidable a challenge as they were likely to see on-campus, given that most of the high-echelon opponents are played at the Wachovia Center (and prior to that, the old Spectrum and the Palestra).

Out of the 265 games that Villanova has played at the Pavilion, there have been only 36 in which Villanova has faced a ranked opponent: after this victory, Villanova has an even split (18-18), when taking on Top 25 opponents there. Moreover, of that group of 36, this was only the 11th time that both the Wildcats and their opponent have been ranked. And in that group, naturally, Villanova has done far better, now having won nine of those 11 contests.

But it seems that the Wildcats, if all goes well, could easily carry the Pavilion streak into next season. Finally, it also snapped a three-game losing streak to Marquette. The Wildcats hadn't won since February 2006, when the nucleus of Marquette's current team were freshmen - and it was at the Pavilion. It also avenged Marquette's 79-72 victory over 'Nova on New Year's Day (Marquette is one of only three BE opponents 'Nova will face twice this season).

Villanova improved to 8-3 Big East, 20-4 overall, while Marquette fell to 9-2 Big East, 20-4 overall. The victory also significantly strengthened Villanova's chances of getting a two-day bye in the new-format Big East tournament in March.

Looking at the numbers

Getting to 102 points requires a team effort, and no fewer than five Wildcats reached double figures. Scottie Reynolds had a game-high 27 points on 10-17 shooting overall and 5-11 from beyond the arc - and had four rebounds. Corey Fisher came off the bench and played 32 minutes, the third-most of any Wildcat. He had 21 points, shooting a sizzling 4-5 from beyond the arc, plus 6-10 from the floor and 5-7 from the line.

The best game overall came from Shane Clark, who had one of the finest days of his career. Clark had 16 points on perfect shooting, making all six of his field goal attempts, including three triples. He also added seven rebounds, three assists, and a blocked shot while committing just a single turnover. Dante Cunningham added 15 points and four boards. And Dwayne Anderson - despite playing only 13 minutes - was outstanding, scoring 10 points and picking up three boards before being injured early in the second half, which kept him out of action for the remainder of the game.

Reggie Redding also made a valuable contribution - he had half a dozen rebounds, as well as half a dozen assists, despite scoring only two points (the team didn't really need more points tonight). Antonio Pena played just 11 minutes but scored five points and grabbed three rebounds. Corey Stokes came off the bench for 21 minutes, finishing with six points, four rebounds and five assists. Regrettably, neither of the practice players - Frank Tchuisi and Jason Colenda - had the opportunity to score. Jay Wright absolutely should have put them in prior to the final minute, given the lopsided score and the chance for the packed Pavilion to cheer them on.

As a team, Villanova's numbers were great, except at the line. The Wildcats shot a torrid 54.2% from beyond the arc, and 58.7% from the floor (as a result, ironically, they actually had a higher percentage on their three-point shots than their two-point shots, as a result). Uncharacteristically for a Jay Wright team, they converted just 57.7% of their free throws (which nearly cost them their trip to the century mark.) Villanova also won the rebounding battle, 41-31.

On defense, the numbers weren't particularly good (Marquette did score 84 points, after all), but given the pace of the game and the number of possessions, it wasn't so bad. The Golden Eagles, ironically, had almost the same number of FTs and percentage as the Wildcats: VU was 15-26, MU was 15-27.

For Marquette, their four stars led the way. Their seniors had played at the Pavilion in February 2006 as freshmen, and they made their return felt. Lazar Hayward finished with 22 points and nine rebounds while playing all but one minute. Jerel McNeal, a BE Player of the Year candidate, had a team-high 23 points and seven assists. Wesley Matthews had 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. Finally, Domenic James finished with 14 points and nine assists.

The game action

Surprisingly, in light of the lopsided final score, the game was actually very competitive for a long time. Marquette led by nine points, in fact, deep into the first half, after James hit a jumper to make it 37-28 with 7:08 till intermission. Villanova had trailed just 23-22 at the 10:54 mark, after a layup by Fisher, and was in danger of slipping out of the game.

However, Villanova embarked on a 14-4 run, reclaiming the lead at 42-41, on a jumper from Cunningham at the 2:50 mark. Fisher then nearly took over the game for the final three minutes. He drew a foul while firing from the perimeter, and drained all three free throws. Fisher then nailed a three, and after Marquette failed to score on its final possession, fed Corey Stokes for a jumper in the dying seconds of the half. Fisher's heroics meant that Villanova headed into the locker room with a 50-45 advantage; it was a 14-point swing in just over seven minutes.

At an emotional level, Anderson's injury was undoubtedly very difficult for the team. As Chris from I Bleed Blue and White put it:

Here was their emotional leader lying on the ground. The place was in stunned silence. Dwayne Anderson sat on the bench quietly for two years, helping the team, and when he got his shot he never looked back. He’s been the heart of this team since the Seton Hall win last year. Losing him was going to crush the momentum that ‘Nova had. But it didn’t. Anderson got up and with some help walked off the court to deafening cheers from the crowd. Everyone seemed to rally around that moment.
Anderson was subsequently diagnosed with a right knee sprain, according to the AP article. Hopefully, he'll be OK.

Update: Villanova has issued a press release on Anderson's injury - here's the relevant summary:

An examination of Dwayne Anderson's left knee has revealed the senior guard suffered a hyperextension and bone bruise... Anderson is listed as questionable for Friday night's game at West Virginia...

"This is good news," stated [team surgeon Dr. Rob] Good. "It's hard to say exactly how long Dwayne will be out for. He will be day-to-day as we monitor the soreness."

Villanova then flattened Marquette for the rest of the game. This was remarkable, in light of how competitive and exciting the first half had been. There had been eight ties and seven lead changes in just 20 minutes, between two evenly matched teams.

The game remained very tension-filled, well into the second half. During the first eight minutes of the second half, Villanova had been able to retain the lead it had taken into halftime, with the lead fluctuating from five to 10 points. It seemed that the Pavilion faithful could breathe a little more easily when the Wildcats opened up a 10-point lead at the 12:12 mark, after a layup by Stokes gave them a 70-60 advantage.

Marquette responded with six quick points, cutting it to 70-64, and raising the anxiety level in the Pavilion. However, Villanova decisively took control at that point, launching an 8-0 run; their lead would never fall below nine points for the rest of the game, and was in double-digits for the vast majority of it.

The road doesn't get any easier for Villanova, however. They must travel to Morgantown, West Virginia - one of the toughest homecourts in the nation for a visitor - and tangle with the Mountaineers at 9 PM on Friday night. A full preview will be coming up.

Go Wildcats!

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