Friday, November 20, 2009

#5 Wildcats Hold Off Furious #18 Dayton Rally in Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic Semifinal, 71-65

To the Wildcat faithful-

Villanova led by 18 points, with 12 minutes to play in the second half, but had to withstand a furious Dayton rally, holding them off in the final two minutes, to advance to the final of the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic.

More to come...

The Wildcats entered Friday's semifinal with #19 Dayton, with the memory of a near-miraculous, comeback win over George Mason, in Thursday's quarterfinal, fresh in their minds.  But Villanova carried a lofty #5 rank into the contest, and today, they continued to justify their national standing.

Unlike yesterday, it was the Wildcats who were trying to stave off the rally, today.  And thanks to clutch shooting at the foul line from Corey Fisher, they were able to improve their record to 4-0 overall, and advance to face Mississippi, in Sunday's championship game.  Fisher was the clear standout today, finishing with a game-high 18 points, three rebounds, two steals, and three assists.

The most important factor in Villanova's victory, was its performance at the foul line.  The Wildcats converted 22 of their 29 free throw attempts, an outstanding 75.9% clip.  And Fisher was the single greatest contributor at the line.   The junior guard took a dozen free throw attempts, making ten, including four in the final minute, with Dayton charging.

As a team, of the Wildcats' final ten free throws, they made all but one.

Taylor King once more came off the bench, and had a major impact on the outcome.  The Duke transfer logged 31 minutes, tying him with Fisher for the most of any Wildcat, and surpassing the minutes of the other four starters.  King was just one rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds.  He nailed four of his eight three-point attempts, which helped to open up opportunities for the Wildcats inside.

But perhaps most importantly - unlike yesterday against George Mason - King stayed out of foul trouble, and stayed on the court.  He had only two fouls today.

Fortunately, as a team, the Wildcats by and large avoided foul trouble, committing only 17 fouls in the game (compared to the 26 against George Mason, the day before). 

After being one of the quartet of Wildcats to foul out against GMU, Antonio Pena once more struggled with foul trouble, playing only 19 minutes.  But he was tremendously effective, in his limited minutes.  Pena ended up with 13 points and seven rebounds, including two key free throws in the final minute.

Scottie Reynolds struggled mightily with his shot today, finishing with eight points on 3-12 shooting, including 0-3 from three-point range.  He did better at distributing the ball, dealing five assists against two turnovers in 29 minutes.

Corey Stokes had a second consecutive ghastly day from the floor.  After going 1-12 from the floor against George Mason, he went 1-9 (and also committed three turnovers and had no assists.)  Yesterday, he made up for the inaccuracy by hitting 10-12 from the line; today, he didn't even get to the line.  He finished with three points and half a dozen rebounds.  It's a good sign that Villanova has seen Stokes shoot 2-21 from the floor, and still managed to win twice, but the Wildcats really need him as a scoring threat.

Maurice Sutton turned in another strong performance underneath the hoop, collecting eight rebounds and two blocks, to go with four points, in 30 minutes.

Dominic Cheek saw substantial playing time off the bench, logging 17 minutes, scoring seven points and adding three rebounds.

Maalik Wayns missed three field goal attempts, but had a pair of assists in seven minutes.

Last, but certainly not least, was yesterday's hero, Isaiah Armwood, who also played seven minutes, finishing with four points.

Villanova appeared to have the game well under control, almost halfway through the second half.  But a furious counterattack by the Flyers meant that Villanova's once-double-digit lead was whittled down to just two points, 62-60, at the 2:23 mark.  Only the quality foul shooting from the Wildcats held off the charge.

Three Dayton Flyers reached double figures: Luke Fabrizius with 16 points, Chris Wright with 15 points, and Chris Johnson with 13 points.

Irony: There is a long connection between the city of Dayton and aviation; this connection goes all the way back to the Wright Brothers, who were from Dayton, and that connection is why their nickname is the Flyers.  (The Wright Brothers' first successful flight, per se, was in North  Carolina at Kitty Hawk, but they lived in Dayton.  They traveled to Kitty Hawk, because it had the best weather conditions, for the potential success of the flight.)  Coincidentally, Jay Wright has now faced Dayton three times as a head coach, and Dayton also has a player named Wright...

Villanova / Dayton Series History

The Wildcats have now evened the all-time series with Dayton, at five wins apiece.  The first meeting was on February 24, 1953, at the Palestra, with the Wildcats winning 80-70.

Dayton figured significantly in the 1985 national championship run.  The Wildcats, despite their #8 seed, were forced to face the ninth-seeded Flyers on their home court in the first round.  On a per capita basis, Dayton is perhaps the most basketball-mad city in the United States, which is why it is the permanent home of the play-in game in the NCAA tournament.  This first-round game represented a considerable obstacle for Villanova's hopes that March, the first year of the 64-team field.

(Eventually, the NCAA no longer permitted teams to play on their home floor -  although there are major loopholes, such as the fact that Villanova has twice been permitted to play at the Wachovia Center, as long as no more than three games are scheduled there.)

As a result, the 51-49 victory by Rollie Massimino's Wildcats was properly deemed a substantial feat - but as subsequent events demonstrated, the Villanova faithful hadn't seen anything yet, at that point.

More recently, in the Wright era, the schools played a home-and-home series during his first two seasons.  Villanova triumphed at the Pavilion on November 24, 2001, 59-57.  At Christmas time, the following season, on December 22, 2002, the Flyers won with a dramatic finish, 80-78, in Dayton.  The teams hadn't faced each other since then, until today.

I'll have a preview up for the championship game against Mississippi, as soon as possible.

Also, take a look at the recaps from the fine Villanova blogs, on the right sidebar...

Go Wildcats!



Anonymous said...

Great reports. Thanks.

Who would expect that Sutton and Armwood would be heroes of these games? Indicates that even without Maphou, we have a lot of weapons to call on.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the comment. I concur that the newcoming players have really delivered in the first two games in Puerto Rico... One upside is that, as you said, Wright has a lot of options when it comes to scoring, and increased faith in their abilities in tight, late-game situations...

Go Wildcats!

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