Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Back in Blue" - #5 Wildcats Are 2009 Puerto Rico Tip-Off Champions! Villanova Tops Mississippi, 79-67, in Title Game

To the Wildcat faithful-

"Back in Blue"

The #5 Wildcats were, in fact, "back in blue", in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday night. They sported their dark blue road jerseys for the first time this season - and emerged as the 2009 O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off Champions!  

The Wildcats overcame an albatross of 22 turnovers to win by a dozen points, defeating Mississippi, 79-67, in the championship game.  With victories over George Mason, #19 Dayton, and now Mississippi, Villanova improved to 6-0 overall.

By coincidence, the venerable Australian hard-rock band AC/DC played San Juan last night - clarifying to me, why games were scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, but not Saturday.  (The phrase in the headline refers to AC/DC's famous 1980 album, "Back in Black".)

This fact came to light during the ESPN2 broadcast, which demonstrated via film, how quickly the crew at the Coliseo could transform the building, from holiday basketball tournament, to arena rock venue, and back again, in 36 hours.  I would not be shocked, if the reverberations from the Saturday night concert, were still bouncing around the cavernous Coliseum, 24 hours later.

Well, to paraphrase AC/DC, Villanova really did shake the Coliseo all night long, to the extent that the near-empty building could be shaken, under the circumstances.  (I'm not a fan of the band, but there are very few opportunities to integrate AC/DC, into a Villanova basketball game story...)

The leading Coliseo-shaker for Villanova was Antonio Pena, who had a tremendous tournament.  When it came time to "Shoot to Thrill", Pena delivered.  The redshirt junior finished with a superb 17 points on 8-13 shooting, and a stellar 16 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.

Scottie Reynolds led the Wildcat scorers with 21 points, on 6-16 shooting, 7-10 from the line, and 2-4 from three-point range - in only 26 minutes.  The impressive output was tempered, though, by six turnovers compared to a lone assist.

The Return of the "Bayonne Bomber"

The other main story line was the most-welcome return of the "Bayonne Bomber" - Corey Stokes.  Stokes had finished the first two games with a combined 2-23 shooting performance in Puerto Rico, entering tonight, but he returned to form with a vengeance.  The junior scored 18 points on 5-9 shooting, and was a major factor in keying the Villanova victory.

Rounding out the honors list for Villanova, was the performance of Duke transfer Taylor King.  King continues to impress in his first season on the floor, as he narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with nine points and 11 rebounds, in 31 minutes of action.

To be certain, this was not an aesthetically-pleasing game to watch.  Mississippi took even worse care of the ball than the Wildcats, finishing with 23 turnovers- and any game where the teams combine for 45 turnovers is ugly.  Villanova led 27-23 at halftime, after starting the game on a 8-0 run.  The Wildcats pulled away late in the second-half, when the lead widened into double-digits.

However, the Wildcats grew sloppy, and a couple of three-point plays later, Mississippi - although still down by a considerable margin - was close enough that Rebels coach Andy Kennedy opted to foul, thus prolonging their inevitable defeat.  This decision only added to the already-low aesthetic value of the contest.

For Mississippi, Chris Warren had a game-high 24 points, with Terrico White adding 14 points and nine rebounds, and Murphy Holloway also reaching double figures with 10 points.  One of the key factors was inside play - Villanova's scoring output in the paint was double that of Mississippi, 36-18.

Props to the George Mason Pep Band - The "Green Machine"

A final note to this memorable holiday tournament, are the props that must be given to the George Mason pep band.

They apparently were the only pep band to make the trip, and ESPN2 noted that they remained in the Coliseo for the entire tournament, performing and entertaining the small crowds.  Their dynamic, sunglass-wearing bandleader got plenty of face time on-camera. 

In an otherwise empty building, the intrepid GMU pep band, known as the "Green Machine",did their best to create at least a semblance of proper collegiate basketball entertainment, playing at timeouts during the other games.  It undoubtedly made it more pleasant for those who made the trip, and it certainly did for us viewers at home, as it was good to hear the music in what otherwise would have been a virtually empty building.

It was also funny to hear them chant to each other, "George" and"Mason", back and forth, during garbage time of our game, when their team wasn't one of the two on the court.  At one point late in the game, the ESPN2 cameras showed one particular vantage-point, from behind one basket, where you saw nobody there- other than the full strength, green-and-gold clad pep band from George Mason.  The band members had undoubtedly had a great time, and highly memorable experiences, on this trip to sunny Puerto Rico - which, in the final analysis, is what college athletics is supposed to be all about.

So props to the GMU pep band, for their commendable, spirited entertainment this week.

Villanova / Mississippi Series History

This was only the second-ever meeting between the schools, and the first in the regular season.  Villanova - although a decade late - finally avenged its narrow loss to Mississippi in the 1999 NCAA tournament, where the Rebels edged the Wildcats, 72-70, in the first round in Milwaukee.

Next Up for the Wildcats

The Wildcats will now enjoy nearly a week off, through Thanksgiving.  They do not take the floor again until Saturday afternoon, November 28, when they host City Series rival La Salle at the Pavilion.  I will be posting a comprehensive preview...

And don't forget to take a look at the other Villanova blogs on the sidebar, for their respective takes on the Wildcats' Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship...

Go Wildcats!

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for report. Very sloppy game. My God, we looked ragged in first half.

Second half, a different story. Scotty comes to life. Stokes finds his shot. Pena turns into a beast on the boards. King turns in nearly a double double. And Maurice Sutton shows signs of becoming good defender and rebounder. Defensively, we shut Mississippi down.

Sutton had a putback, a block, and a rebound in the first 90 seconds of the game.

A good tournament. These guys are going to be very strong come January.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for sharing your observations. In particular, your point about Sutton, is one that I had overlooked. Obviously, it's hard to tell how much he may have improved, due to his redshirt year last season, he's becoming increasingly valuable underneath. And it would seem that with Mouph out for a little while, he'll continue to get minutes...

There did seem to be some sort of "on" switch that Wright and/or the players turned on in the second half, particularly once the lead started to increase.

One role that this particular team could really use, is a Will Sheridan-esque player who can rebound and defend in the interior, and if Sutton can become that player, we're that much better off...

The players and coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for winning this tournament, especially playing shorthanded, and after the harrowing game against George Mason in the quarterfinal...

Have a good Thanksgiving...

Go Wildcats!

Anonymous said...

That was, btw, my first opportunity to see the team.

I'm pretty impressed. They're young. There will be some ups and downs, but I"m pretty impressed.


Anonymous said...

That was my first opportunity to see this year's team. I'm pretty impressed.

They're young. There will be ups and downs. There will be games when we get two of yesterday's first halves in a row. But I'm pretty impressed.


Anonymous said...

Thought you wouldn't get the point the first time!

Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the feedback, and the comments - they're very helpful...

You may have seen by now that we've jumped a spot, up to #4 in the new AP poll yesterday... I agree with you, we have a very young team, a particularly young one given our lofty ranking. But they deserve a lot of credit for playing beyond their years and experience level...

Go Wildcats!