Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Villanova/Duke Rivalry History - December 14, 1996 - #14 Blue Devils Wreck Then-CoreStates Center Opening, Defeating #4 Wildcats, 87-79

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

This week - in addition to previewing the Sweet 16 contest between the Villanova Wildcats and the Duke Blue Devils - I'll be looking back at the ten previous games in which Villanova has met Duke.

Other entries in the Villanova/Duke Rivalry History -

You can read about the November 14, 2000, Preseason NIT meeting at Cameron Indoor Stadium...

December 14, 1996 (regular season) - #14 Duke 87, #4 Villanova 79, @ the CoreStates Center college basketball debut, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The new Philadelphia Flyers/76ers venue, the then-CoreStates Center, opened its doors for the 1996-97 season. Of course, Villanova had occasionally used the old Spectrum for games against Georgetown, Syracuse, and the like, but they wanted a big splash for their first game in the "new building". And what better way to mark the first college basketball game in the glittering venue, than by inviting a program of Duke's prominence?

(The old Spectrum witnessed its final game recently, as it is scheduled for demolition in the near future. In addition, \the Wildcats played a nostalgia game against Pittsburgh earlier this season, on January 29, as a tribute. It was the first time they had played there since the 1996-97 season, when they were unable to book the "new building" more than three times, and thus had to play twice in the "old building". There were five games in South Philadelphia that year, as a result.)

So on Saturday afternoon, December 14, 1996, many Villanova students took a respite from their exams to travel by a flotilla of chartered buses, down to the Center in South Philadelphia, for the historic occasion.

Duke was obviously a program of great prestige, having been to numerous Final Fours and not far removed from back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992. However, the Wildcats featured one of their most talented teams, the last year of the Steve Lappas-era nucleus (minus Kerry Kittles and Eric Eberz) of Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams, and Chuck Kornegay - but bolstered by the single-year appearance of Tim Thomas. (Duke fans - you may remember Kornegay from his time at NC State, from which he transferred to Villanova.) As a result, the Wildcats were ranked #4 nationally, higher than the Blue Devils, who were ranked #14 in the poll.

Duke wrecked the opening-day party, unfortunately, hanging an 87-79 defeat on the Wildcats at the Center. According to the Duke Chronicle, which covered the contest:

A great deal of the credit for the win goes to the Duke backcourt of [Jeff] Capel, [Trajan] Langdon and junior Ricky Price. The trio scored 49 of the Blue Devils' points and hit a combined 7-for-12 from the three-point arc. Their outside shooting was necessary due to the much larger Wildcat frontcourt which often prevented the Blue Devils from getting the ball inside. Villanova outscored Duke 34-20 in the paint, but the real battle was further out on the court-while the Blue Devils finished the game with a sizzling 52.9 three-point percentage, the Wildcats only managed a meager 23.1%...

Villanova kept Duke's lead within 10 for the first few minutes of the second half, but following a jumper by senior center Greg Newton at the 17:17 mark to put Duke up 48-37, the Wildcats remained in a double-digit debt to the Blue Devils for nearly 15 minutes. Villanova managed to narrow the gap in the last minutes of the game by committing eight fouls in the final 2:20 in an attempt to regain possession of the ball, but it was not enough.
You can also read the AP story.


Of course, given its #4 ranking entering the game, it was a strong Wildcats team, one which eventually qualified for the NCAA tournament as a #4 seed and played - ironically - not very far from Durham- in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where Wake Forest was the host. But the Wildcats were unable to make it past the second round. They defeated #13 Long Island, before falling to #5 California in the second round. (The Cal squad featured future NFL legendary tight end Tony Gonzalez, who went on to stardom for the Kansas City Chiefs.)

By Duke standards, 1996-97 was a solid, but unspectacular, year. The Blue Devils still had not fully recovered from the disastrous mid-'90s collapse triggered by Coach K's health. As a result, Duke had missed the 1995 tournament completely- its first absence in a dozen years, since 1983. They had also lost in the first round of the 1996 tournament, as a #8 seed, to #9 Eastern Michigan.

The 1997 Blue Devils returned to form, qualifying as a more Duke-like #2 seed, and played their first two rounds in nearby Charlotte, North Carolina. But they really struggled, escaping #15 seed Murray State by just three points, 71-68, in the first round. In the second round, they were upset by #10 seed Providence, 98-87. Capel was the star, scoring 25 points against the Racers in the first round and 26 against the Friars in the second.

Check back for more posts, both on the history of Villanova/Duke, and a comprehensive preview of Thursday's Sweet 16 contest, scheduled for around 10 PM in Boston...

You can also take a look at the Various Viewpoints on the right sidebar, for their takes...

Go Wildcats!

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