Wednesday, December 02, 2009

#3 Wildcats, Pena Incinerate Drexel Dragons, 77-58, At Pavilion; Pena Sets Career High With 19 Points

To the Wildcat faithful-

The last time the Drexel Dragons roared into the Pavilion, the underdog Dragons, ironically, became the dragon-slayers.  On December 9, 2006, Drexel stunned Villanova, defeating the Wildcats for the first time ever, after 17 losses, dating all the way back to 1924.

Had the Dragons pulled off another upset - this time over the third-ranked Wildcats - it would have been national news.  But it was not to be.  This, year it was the Dragons themselves, who were slain.

The #3 Wildcats had little trouble, in vanquishing their third straight crosstown rival, on Wednesday at the Pavilion.  An overmatched Drexel Dragons squad fell, 77-58. 

The Wildcats improved to a perfect 7-0 on the young season.  Drexel fell to 3-5 overall.  Villanova now owns victories over Penn, La Salle, and Drexel, among the Greater Philadelphia programs.

The game was ugly in the early going.  Drexel made just five of its first 26 shots; Villanova just six of its first 24.  But 'Nova led, 24-13, nonetheless, despite being outrebounded 20-18...

Villanova nearly doubled up Drexel at halftime, taking a comfortable 34-18 lead into the break. 

Inside the Box Score

Antonio Pena - seeing more and more minutes in the paint, with the news of Mouphtauo Yarou's hepatitis - recorded a double-double.  Pena finished with 19 points and 11 boards, to lead the Wildcats in both categories.  The 19 points represented a career-high for the forward, shouldering more and more of the load underneath.

However, Pena was far from the only Wildcat, to distinguish himself tonight.  Taylor King continues to impress, coming off the bench.  The Duke transfer dropped in 16 points on 6/11 shooting, including 4/6 from beyond the arc.  King added five rebounds, a pair of steals and a blocked shot - and did it all, in just 23 minutes of action.

Scottie Reynolds had an outstanding game in the backcourt - and he was the only Wildcat remaining, from the aforementioned Drexel upset, in December 2006.  (He played 20 minutes, was 0/5 from the floor, and scored a single point.)  Times certainly have changed, since he was a freshman: Reynolds is now enshrined in Villanova history, as a result of The Shot that catapulted the Wildcats to the Final Four, last March.

Tonight, the senior star scored 14 points on 4/7 shooting, but he really filled in the box score: Reynolds had eight rebounds, six assists, a steal, and just two turnovers in 27 minutes.

This worked out well, as neither Corey had his shooting touch this evening.  Fisher had a very rough shooting night, making only one of his six attempts and finishing with five points.  But Fisher came up big in other areas: five assists and four steals, against one turnover in 25 minutes.

For Stokes, it was largely the same - poor shooting, contributing in other ways.  In 30 minutes, the Bayonne Bomber was anything but: 2/8 from the floor, finishing with seven points.  But Stokes added five rebounds, an assist and a block.

Looking at the role players:

Along with Pena, Maurice Sutton will have to play a lot of minutes in Mouph's absence.  Sutton plugged away tonight, chewing up 23 minutes underneath and providing some interior defense.  Sutton finished with two points, three rebounds, one steal, a turnover (and most importantly) three blocked shots.

Dominic Cheek received 20 minutes tonight, and his game was respectable: three points on 1/4 shooting, four rebounds, two turnovers, one steal, and two blocks.

Maalik Wayns, in 17 minutes, provided some offensive spark: seven points on 3/4 shooting.  He did commit three turnovers against one assist, though.

Isaiah Armwood saw 7 minutes, had two points on 1/2 shooting, and one rebound.

Russell Wooten - the only walk-on Wildcat, now that Jason Colenda has opted to leave the team - saw 2 minutes of action, to Jay Wright's credit.  Wooten scored two points on his lone shot and grabbed a rebound.  How it happened: with 16 seconds to play, Wooten rebounded a miss by Cheek, and laid it in to get in the scoring tally.  Congratulations to Wooten - the Pavilion crowd went wild.

As a team, Villanova blocked eight shots and committed only 15 fouls.  The low foul total is partly attributable to the lopsided score, but given the foul trouble the team encountered regularly en route to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic title, it's an encouraging sign.

Shooting accuracy, both overall and from three-point range, was also a strength for the Wildcats.  Villanova was extremely accurate: 24/52 (46.2%) from the floor, and a stellar 7/15 (46.7%) from beyond the arc.  The Wildcats were also strong at the foul line: 22/30 (73.3%).  The big star at the line, ironically, was Pena, who was 11/16 there.

The Drexel Side of the Box Score

There were some fine performances.  Derrick Thomas (yes, the same name as the legendary Kansas City Chiefs linebacker) had a career-high 23 points to lead all scorers, in only 26 minutes.  On a minute-per-minute basis, Chris Fouch was even more impressive.  Fouch came off the bench to score 20 points on 6/9 shooting, including 5/8 from three-point range.  He added two rebounds and four assists, and did it all in just 20 minutes.  Samme Givens just missed a double-double, with nine points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes.

What really killed Drexel tonight, was field goal and free throw accuracy.  The Dragons were only 18/58 (31%) from the floor, a credit to the Villanova defense.  But the Dragons were also 11-20 (55%) from the line, which Villanova, obviously, had nothing to do with.

The Game Action

Villanova raced out to a 11-0 start, and it appeared that the game would not be close, initially.  But the game stayed close for a while, because neither team scored much, early.  Drexel rallied, although the closest Drexel got was an 18-13 margin, which came after a triple from Gouch with 4:50 to go in the first half.

The Villanova lead ballooned to as much as 28 points, in the second half; that zenith came with 9:28 to play, after a pair of free throws from Pena.  The Wildcats led at that point, 58-30.  It's quite a game when the opponent takes 30:32 of the game just to get to 30 points, and then scores 28 points in the final 9:28, but that's what happened.

The final score - a 19-point Villanova victory - is actually a bit misleading.  The Wildcats still held a 26-point lead - 73-47 - after a triple by Wayns with 2:24 to go.  Drexel ended the game on an 11-4 run to pull to within 19.  Two of the four Villanova points came memorably, from Wooten.

Closing Thoughts: Drexel Vis-a-Vis the Big Five

In the preview, I discussed the question of why Drexel was not included in the Big Five, back in the 1950s.  During the 1990s, when Villanova had withdrawn from the full round-robin and played only two City Series foes a year, a not-uncommon battle cry within the Greater Philadelphia sports community was "Kick out Villanova and bring in Drexel!"

Drexel certainly would have taken the deal.  I speculate, however, that the idea was never seriously considered.  Villanova's decision to withdraw for a decade, was a complete and unmitigated disaster, and not just in retrospect.  I give the school great credit for recognizing the mistake and correcting it after a decade.

However, looking at it from the perspective of the other four schools, there was no way that they were going to cede their shot at Villanova - even if it was only every other year - for the right to play Drexel every year.  During Villanova's absence, the other four continued to play each other annually, although not all counted as "official City Series" games.  St. Joseph's, La Salle, and Temple were all in the Atlantic 10, and would have played each other annually, even if they didn't want to.  Drexel appeared regularly on some of their schedules, anyhow...

This was Villanova's last home game until Christmastime, on December 23.  They will next face the ACC's Maryland Terrapins on the road, on December 6.  I will have a full preview...

Go Wildcats!

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