Thursday, December 10, 2009

War Time King: Taylor's Triples Help #3 Wildcats Vanquish Hawks In Holy War, As They Seal the 97-89 Win at the Palestra

To the Wildcat faithful-

On Wednesday night, the #3 Wildcats met the St. Joseph's Hawks in the 67th Holy War, at the storied Palestra, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  It is the historic home of Big Five basketball, as well as the venue which has hosted more college basketball games (and NCAA tournament games) than any other in the nation.

Villanova led for the entire second half, but had to withstand a furious Hawks rally, down the stretch.  Californian Taylor King, a transfer sophomore from Duke, playing in his first Holy War, hit two triples down the stretch, to end the Hawks' hopes...  The Wildcats vanquished the gallant, overmatched Hawks, 97-89....

Villanova improved to 3-0 City Series, 9-0 overall.  The Hawks fell to 0-1 City Series, 3-5 overall.  It was the City Series opener for the Hawks; the Wildcats had crushed Penn and defeated La Salle at the Pavilion,  back in November...

Some New Historical Numbers, in the Aftermath of the Villanova Victory

The Wildcats are now 43-24, all-time, against the Hawks, and 32-23 as members of the Big Five.
But at the Palestra, the Wildcats still trail, 20-18, to the Hawks.  (Villanova would need to win the next three Palestra games to take the lead, so it probably can't happen until the 2015-2016 season, with the game there only every other year).  Of the last 39 games, the Wildcats hold a commanding 27-12 advantage.

Jay Wright is now 6-3 against SJU.

Villanova has now won 21 of its last 22 City Series games; the lone exception was in February 2008, a 22-point loss to the Hawks at the Palestra.

Villanova is now 120-83 in Big Five games, the best percentage of any school; SJU is in third place, narrowly behind Temple, with a 113-88 record mark.

Although the Wildcats came into the game with an unblemished record, and a lofty national ranking, the proverbial truth is that "when the Big Five is concerned, throw out the records."  That was certainly true this evening, as it often is.  SJU came into the game with four straight losses - all on the road - to #7 Purdue, DePaul, Rider, and Cornell.  But the Hawks made a spirited attempt at an upset tonight.  Had the basketball gods yielded Martelli and the Hawks a few better bounces, as well as more depth, it might have happened.

The Hawks' upset bid was further fueled by the highly partisan crowd, as Villanova received only about 350 or so of the 8,700 + capacity Palestra.  Only five years removed from a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and Elite Eight appearance, and with a newly renovated home court on its campus, the Hawks remain a potential threat to Villanova, any time that the two schools meet.  They nearly upset the Wildcats at the Pavilion, last December, as well.

Looking at the Box Score

Scottie Reynolds played in his final Holy War last night, and he made it one to remember.  The senior superstar finished with a team-high 22 points, half a dozen rebounds, five assists, four steals and a (rare) blocked shot.  The only downside were his six turnovers, but he more than made up for it.  Among the most important contribution was his 12-14 at the line...

King came off the bench, once more, to log 27 minutes.  He finished with 20 points, narrowly missing a double-double with nine rebounds.  He was 7-15 from the floor and 4-8 from three-point range, with the final two triples devastating the Hawks' hopes.

Antonio Pena fell into foul trouble, which limited him to 25 minutes, but when he was on the floor, St. Joe's had very few answers for him.  Pena finished with 15 points on 5-8 shooting, as well as seven rebounds.

Corey Fisher also struggled with foul trouble, and he eventually fouled out, so he saw only 29 minutes.  He had a very rough shooting night (2/8 from the floor), but he was money at the foul line, converting all eight of his attempts, and winding up with 13 points.

Maalik Wayns emerged from the bench, to score 9 points in only 18 minutes.

What were the Keys to the Villanova Victory?

Free Throw Shooting.  The Wildcats got to the line early and often last night.  They took 40 free throws attempts and made all but five, a stellar 87.5%, and it was the difference maker.

Accurate Three-point Shooting.  Villanova hit 42.1% of their three-pointers, which was vitally important.  Although SJU does not have a dominant big man, the Wildcats were already shorthanded without Youph, and Pena got into foul trouble early.  The Wildcats had to rely on the three-point shot more heavily than normal, when they face SJU, but they made enough of them to keep themselves ahead, especially the two from King at crunch time. 

Rebounding.  The Wildcats - faster, deeper, and bigger, at least when they aren't in foul trouble - outrebounded the Hawks, 42-31. 

The St. Joseph's Side of the Box Score

Phil Martelli and his Hawks have some talent, and their best players brought it last night.  Junior Idris Hilliard had a career-high 22 points to lead the Hawks, in a superb all-around performance.  He was perfect from the floor, making all five of his shots, and nearly perfect at the line, where he made all but one of 13 attempts.

Senior Darrin Govens, playing in his final Holy War, finished with 19 points on 7/13 shooting, four rebounds, and three assists.  Fellow senior Garrett Williamson was hampered by foul trouble, which eventually sent him to the bench, but nonetheless ended up with 13 points on 3/8 shooting, as well as seven assists against three turnovers.

Freshman Carl Jones, playing in his first Holy War, added 16 points on 5/10 shooting, including three triples.

The Game Action

Had SJU won this game - with Villanova unbeaten and ranked #3 nationally, and the Hawks themselves just 3-4 - it undoubtedly would have been one of the biggest upsets, in the lengthy history of the rivalry.  With so much at stake, the Hawks were loaded for bear, so to speak, and it was a very raucous atmosphere in the ancient basketball cathedral on the Penn campus. 

The first half was very exciting, and well played.  There were four ties and six lead changes, as the Hawks stubbornly hung around.  They wouldn't permit Villanova to pull away and take the full-throated crowd out of the game.  The Wildcats sagged with foul trouble - four players had two fouls by halftime - and although Villanova has the bench to sustain itself through those stretches, it kept SJU in the game.  And the longer they were in the game, the longer they felt that they had a chance for an upset.  Although the final margin was relatively wide at nine points, the crowd was so loud, especially down the stretch, that the Hawks could very well have stolen this one at the end.

The Wildcats got some momentum to end the half, when on their final possession, the Hawks ran the shot clock down to zero and missed a shot; King rebounded it, fired up to Stokes in transition, who in turn fired it to Maurice Sutton for an easy, undisputed dunk, giving the Wildcats the 41-38 lead at halftime.  It had been a group effort for the Wildcats, which saw nine different players score just in the first half.  Villanova owned a 29-19 rebounding edge, which would continue.

It appeared, at the outset of the second half, that the Wildcats might pull away.  Villanova went on a run to make it 55-47 after a floater from Wayns on a 4-on-1 break, forcing Phil Martelli to use a timeout.  The Wildcats started to edge their lead into double digits, and might have put the Hawks away.  After King's mishap on the dunk (more on that below), Villanova still had a 73-62 lead, with less than seven minutes to play.

But the Hawks counterattacked, with the echoes of the rafters urging them on, and so no Villanova fan felt secure until it was over.  It would take clutch free throw shooting, as well as two knockout threes from King, to finally hold off the Hawks' surge.  

Final score - Villanova 97, St. Joseph's 89 - the largest combined total of points in the entire history of the rivalry, I believe.

I must credit ESPN, as well as its broadcasters Dave Pasch and Big Five veteran Bill Raftery (La Salle) for their outstanding performance, in bringing the Palestra into our respective living rooms.  The Holy War is often their only Palestra telecast of a season (and it's only there, every other year), and so they pack as much of its illustrious, fabled history into the broadcast as they can.  If I had never been to the Palestra, I certainly would want to see a game there, after seeing the game last night.  There were many shots of the various and sundry basketball shrines in the hallways, snippets of interviews with Wright discussing his cherishing of the traditions, his efforts to explain it to the Wildcats newcomers.  As Wright had put it - "Until you play a game here, you can't really understand it; but once you have, you never forget it." 

Witticisms from Raf: 

On former Wildcat coaching legend Rollie Massimino, when Pasch had said that Wright had "learned the game from Rollie's lap," he added, "Rollie taught him how to dress, too, but he'll never admit it."

When Wright was showing some of the Wildcats the displays on the Palestra concourse, dressed in a sweatsuit, Raf claimed that "that's one of the four or five outfits he's tried on today." 

After a controversial traveling call on Villanova, he noted wryly, "I stay away from walks on Villanova."  (The reference was to the 2005 NCAA Sweet 16 loss to North Carolina, where Allan Ray's traveling violation was the final roadblock to a Villanova rally against the top seed and eventual national champion; Raf had praised the call at the time.)

After King had the extreme misfortune, to be rejected - literally - by the rim, on an easy breakaway dunk attempt in the second half, Raf noted: "A little egg on the brow..."

Final note - the Wildcat sported a red Santa hat in the win over Maryland in Washington, DC, on Sunday.  Last night, he was wearing a navy blue, Block V Villanova Santa hat. 

Next Up for the Wildcats 

Villanova continues City Series play on Sunday against Temple, at 3:30 PM, and will seek to sweep the Big Five once more...  Please check the outstanding Villanova blogs on the sidebar for recaps of last night's game, as well as previews for Temple...

Go Wildcats!

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