Sunday, December 13, 2009

Temple Topples #3 Wildcats, 75-65, Behind 33 Points From Fernandez, at Liacouras Center, Ending Villanova's Bid For 3rd Straight Big Five Sweep

To the Wildcat faithful-

Dick Vitale, the legendary ESPN analyst, likes to say, "Oh, it's so tough to go undefeated."  He's absolutely right.  Nobody has done it, in over three decades.

This is Villanova's 89th season of intercollegiate play.  And it is now, officially, the 89th season, in which the Wildcats will not go undefeated.  Oh, well.  It was great, while it lasted.

This afternoon, at the Liacouras Center, Temple stunned the third-ranked Wildcats, thanks to Juan Fernandez's astounding career-high 33 points, leading the Owls to an upset, and delighting the Temple faithful, who stormed the court, en masse - and rightfully so.  Congratulations to the Owls, and the entire Temple community for pulling off a major upset.  It was Temple's first victory over a Top 5 team in nearly a decade, since upsetting #1 Cincinnati, back on February 22, 2000.

What Keyed the Temple Upset? 

Juan Fernandez.  The Owls sophomore, in one afternoon, has assured himself a place in Big Five lore - the guy who singlehandedly led unranked Temple to a shocking upset of #3 Villanova.  Fernandez, a native of Argentina - as was former Owl standout Juan "Pepe" Sanchez - is a good player, who has started all 10 Temple contests this season, while averaging over a dozen points per contest.

But his previous career-high was 20 points, attained earlier this season.  He had 33 tonight, in a virtuoso performance that probably ranks among the best ever, by a Villanova opponent in a Big Five game.  Fernandez made 11 of 15 field goal attempts, and a staggering 7-9 from three-point range, to hit 33.  Powered by Fernandez's deadly accuracy, the Owls hit half (11) of their 22 three-point attempts.  Thanks to Fernandez, this was a double-digit loss,  albeit one by just 10 points.

Ryan Brooks also had a superb game for Temple: he finished with 20 points on 7-12 shooting, plus five rebounds.  Lavoy Allen had a monster performance with a strong double-double: 10 points and 17 rebounds, swatting two Wildcat shots, dealing three assists, while playing all 40 minutes. 

Team defense was a struggle for Villanova today: the Wildcats permitted Temple to shoot 54.2% from the floor, and 50% from three-point range, and usually, that's a disaster in the making. 

Rebounding was also poor - Temple crushed Villanova on the glass, outrebounding the Wildcats, 34-25.

Finally, Villanova struggled to get to the foul line, where the Wildcats excel.  When the Wildcats did manage to reach the line, they converted nine of their 11 opportunities (81.8%).  But Villanova's small lineup needs to get to the foul line, far more than 11 times, to have a meaningful chance at victory. 

Looking at the Box Score

Scottie Reynolds turned in another outstanding performance.  The senior standout, playing in his final Big Five contest, scored a team-high 23 points, on 9-16 shooting, 3-6 from beyond the arc, plus seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.

One mystery was why Antonio Pena did not crash the boards, with his usual alacrity.  He provided plenty of offensive punch - 16 points on 5-10 shooting and a perfect 6-6 from the line.  But despite playing all but one minute, he had a paltry two rebounds.

Corey Fisher was the third Wildcat to reach double figures; the junior added 14 points on 6-14 shooting.

Taylor King, coming off the bench, added six points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats were also hurt, by the fact that Corey Stokes had a subpar offensive game.  The Bayonne Bomber's sights were off today; he shot only 2-8 from the floor, finishing with just five points.

The Game Action

What made this loss particularly surprising, was the fact that the Wildcats appeared to have control of the contest late in the first half.  Temple led 2-1, but Villanova then took the lead, for the rest of the first half, leading 7-2, 14-8, and 16-10. Temple crawled back into it at 16-15, but Villanova embarked on a strong run and threatened to pull away.

The Wildcat lead ballooned to 33-19, causing Temple coach Fran Dunphy to call timeouts on back-to-back possessions, with less then four minutes to play in the half.  The Wildcats still led by double-digits, 37-26, at the 2:09 mark of the first half.  The Owls counterattacked, though, and cut the margin to 37-31 at intermission.

Villanova was stuck on 37 for not only the final 2:09 of the first half, but for nearly the opening four minutes of the second half, as well - over six minutes without a point.  And Temple jetted ahead on a 11-0 run to the start the second half.  Leading 42-37 before the Wildcats finally scored again, the Owls would never relinquish the lead.

The game was closer, down the stretch, however, than the 10-point margin of victory would indicate.  Villanova trailed by just two points, 63-61, with 4:28 to play, after a layup from Fisher.  With 3:06 to play, two free throws from Pena made it 66-63, a one-possession game.  But the Wildcats scored only two points, in the remaining 3:06, while Temple scored nine.

Villanova was also hurt by the fact that Temple did not foul much in the second half, meaning that the Wildcats could not catch up with their strong foul shooting, without the clock moving (hence the 11 free throws mentioned earlier).  The Wildcats did play a strong trap pressure defense, particularly with the rarity of having fouls to give in the final two minutes, and forced an occasional Temple turnover.  But the Owls committed only a dozen miscues on the game, not enough to permit a Main Liner comeback.

Finally, significant props must be given to former Villanova coach Steve Lappas, who served as color analyst for the CBS College Sports broadcast.  (And, of course, there's nothing to make it feel like Christmas-time, like hearing the stirring CBS "Road to the Final Four" music for the first time in the year, even on a CBS satellite digital channel.)

Lappas described his own unique insights on Villanova, based on his experiences as the Wildcats' head coach for nine years (and before that, as an assistant on the 1985 national championship team coached by Rollie Massimino).  He also provided some fascinating X's and O's analysis.  If we have future games on this channel, I hope that he will once more be the color analyst.

Final - Temple 75, #3 Villanova 65.

Villanova fell to 3-1 City Series, 9-1 overall.  The Owls improved to 1-0 City Series, 8-2 overall.

Villanova / Temple Series Rivalry Facts, Updated
  • This was the 83rd meeting, going all the way back to 1921, Villanova's first season on the hardwood.  The Wildcats now lead, 42-40.
  • Temple snapped a four-game losing streak to Villanova.  The Owls' last previous victory was on December 4, 2004, at the Palestra, when Temple won a 53-52 nailbiter.  No current Owl had ever beaten Villanova.
  • At the Liacouras Center, the teams have now split the four meetings.
  • Jay Wright is now 7-3 against Temple.
City Series Implications

The loss snapped Villanova's incredible winning streak in the Big Five.

Since that aforementioned loss to Temple in December 2004, Villanova had won 21 of 22 Big Five contests, a remarkable feat.  Even now, Villanova has still won 21 of its last 23 (the only other loss was in February 2006, to St. Joseph's).

Since his arrival for the 2001-02 season, Jay Wright is now 28-8 in the Big Five - quite a feat.  He started 7-6, but has gone 21-2 since then.

It's 12 days before Christmas, but Villanova has now completed its City Series slate, with a 3-1 mark.  The Wildcats swept the Big Five in both 2009 and 2008.  Had the Wildcats won today, it would have been four City Series sweeps in five seasons.

The odds are overwhelmingly likely that the three wins will be enough to at least share the crown, and there's a possibility that it might still permit them to win it outright, although Temple would need to go 1-2 in its final three Big Five games.

Ironically, this was Villanova's final City Series game, but it was also the Big Five opener for Temple.  The Owls, hypothetically, could take sole possession of the crown, if-
  1. they defeat Penn at the Palestra on January 13, 
  2. La Salle on January 30 at the Liacouras Center, and 
  3. St. Joseph's on February 20 at the Palestra.  
The Owls will be heavy favorites, against a moribund Penn program (the Quakers are 0-7).   But the two other Atlantic 10 teams will be tough, particularly SJU at the Palestra.  (Although Temple and SJU play twice, due to being in the same division, the Palestra game is the one that counts for City Series purposes.)

The Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll did not have particularly rosy scenarios for Temple this season, having lost Dionte Christmas, the three-time conference leading scorer.  In Temple's seven-team East Division, the Owls were stuck in a tie for fifth-place with Duquesne. 

Any loss by Temple would give Villanova a share of the title...

Next Up for the Wildcats

The team is undoubtedly busy with exams, and will not play again until taking on Fordham at the Meadowlands on Saturday, December 19.

Content will be added throughout the week, so please check back - and take a look at the fine Villanova blogs on the sidebar.

Go Wildcats!



Anonymous said...

Ouch! Hurts to read it, but Temple deserves all the praise. Shooting lights out.

Live by the three; die by the three. Temple thrived on them and we starved.

ON to the FCS Championship Game with Andy Talley's great team! Two national titles in a year would be nice.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

As always, thanks for the comment. I concur that the Owls thoroughly outplayed us, and Dunphy did a great job in figuring out how to beat the Wildcats.

(As noted in the article, since we obviously aren't going to win every game, it was good that if we had a loss, it would be to one of our five brethren in the City of the Brotherly Love.)

I'm going to be writing a preview for the football championship against Montana, as well as a recap, so please check back for that...

Go Wildcats! Bring home a national title from Chattanooga!

Anonymous said...

ON the Montana game, they take their football very seriously in Montana. (Montana has a lot of 7-man football leagues in its small rural high schools; so high school graduates have a lot of playing experience, often on both sides of the ball.) This is experienced program that's been to national title game several times and came home with trophy twice, I think. They play in very harsh winter conditions in front of 20,000+ fans a game; and seem to be capable of throwing the ball effectively in those conditions.

On most offensive and defensive categories, I think we lead them, but they lead FCS, I believe, in passing attack and they have a 1,400-yard runner. I assume we can stop the run, but defensing their passing game will require our attention and let's hope our secondary has matured over the course of the year.

I take this team very seriously as I'm sure Andy does. His reported comment that Montana can't be tougher than the teams the 'Cats have already played may be effort to get criticism from Montana fans directed his way, instead of at the team.

Look forward to your preview.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the lengthy, detailed, and intelligently written comment on Montana. As a matter of fact, I was so impressed with it that it's going to be incorporated into the preview....

Go Wildcats!