Saturday, November 28, 2009

#4 Wildcats Win 8th Straight Over City Series Rival La Salle, 81-63, at Pavilion

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #4 Villanova Wildcats continued their juggernaut, within the Philadelphia Big Five, on Saturday afternoon, at the Pavilion.  Villanova had no trouble routing crosstown rival La Salle, 81-63, for the eighth consecutive time.  La Salle's last victory had come on November 27, 2001, right after Jay Wright had taken over for Steve Lappas.  The eight-game winning streak by Villanova represents the longest streak of success for either team, in this particular Big Five rivalry.

It does seem odd, however, focusing on basketball on Thanksgiving weekend.  The holiday is so closely associated with football - as it should be.  This weekend is really too early, to be thinking about the hardwood.

But the 6,500 Pavilion partisans did not let their feasting (both on Thursday and throughout this weekend) on turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and mashed potatoes, inter alia, deter them from turning out in large numbers to support their Wildcats, in City Series play.

The Wildcats remain unbeaten in City Series play, at 2-0; La Salle fell to 0-1.  The Wildcats also improved their overall record to 6-0, while La Salle dropped to 3-2.  Villanova is now also well on its way, to sweeping its City Series rivals for the third straight season - only St. Joseph's and Temple stand in its path.  Villanova has now won 20 of its last 21 contests, against Big Five opponents.

La Salle fell to 5-4 at the Pavilion, all-time, an exceptionally strong record there, as it is a very hostile environment for visitors.  In fact, the Explorers won five of their first six games there.  However, Villanova has now won three in a row at the Pavilion.

Four Wildcats reached double figures.  Scottie Reynolds and Antonio Pena each contributed 14 points, while Corey Fisher added 13 points, and freshman Dominic Cheek came off the bench to score 10 points in just 23 minutes of action.

For La Salle, Kimmani Barrett had a game-high 17 points on 7/10 shooting from the floor.  Two Explorers also recorded double-doubles: Aaric Murray, with 15 points and 14 rebounds (nine on the offensive end), and Jerrel Williams had 15 points and 16 rebounds (a dozen on the offensive end of the glass).  Williams struggled, however, despite the lofty numbers.  He went just 3/11 from the floor, as well as shooting only 9/19 from the foul line.

La Salle missed all seven of its initial three-point attempts, and never really got on track.  The Wildcats enjoyed a solid 38-30 lead at intermission.  In the second half, it was only marginally competitive.  The closest that La Salle got to Villanova, was early in the second half.

Villanova's lead was just a half-dozen points, 45-39, shortly after play resumed.  But the Wildcats turned on the jets, launching an 16-5 run that effectively ended the contest.  The Wildcats now led 61-44, with just under nine minutes to play; La Salle was never able to close the gap to single digits, the rest of the way.

Next Up for the Wildcats

Villanova will take on another Philadelphia team (although not a Big Five member), the Drexel Dragons, at the Pavilion, on Wednesday, December 2.  Check back for a full preview...

Of course, I hope all of you enjoyed your Thanksgiving weekend...

Go Wildcats!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

#4 Wildcats Tangle with La Salle for 59th Time - Preview of the City Series Contest

To the Wildcat faithful-

The fourth-ranked Wildcats (5-0 overall, 1-0 City Series) tangle with ancient rival La Salle (3-1 overall, 0-0 City Series) for the 59th time, on Saturday at the Pavilion..  Tip-off is at 3:30 PM, and the game will be televised by ESPN2.

Villanova has swept all of its City Series opponents in the last two seasons, and can do so again this year.  The Wildcats are 1-0 in City Series play, after crushing Penn less than two weeks ago.  Villanova has also won 19 of its last 20 games in City Series play.

A Year Ago

Last season, on December 14, 2008, #12 Villanova made its first-ever visit to La Salle's newly-renovated Tom Gola Arena.  Despite the hostile environment in the on-campus venue, the Wildcats were able to triumph, 70-59, after jumping out to a 36-26 lead at halftime. The two leading scorers for Villanova are still here - Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes.  Reynolds had 13 points on 5-12 shooting, while Stokes scored a game-high 18 points on 6-10 shooting.

There was also an incredible defensive performance from Dante Cunningham - in addition to scoring nine points, the senior forward had, in an interesting bit of statistical symettry, had four defensive rebounds, four steals, and blocked four La Salle shots.  Corey Fisher came off the bench, to deal six assists without a single turnover, and also threw in eight points in 26 minutes.

For La Salle, Kimmani Barrett and Rodney Green both led the way with 16 points each, the only two Explorers in double figures.

La Salle finished the season 18-13 overall, and 9-7 in the Atlantic 10, but did not receive a NIT bid; the fact that the Explorers lost in overtime to St. Louis in the Atlantic 10 tournament's opening round may have affected the NIT's decision.

Villanova / La Salle Series History

Villanova leads, all-time, 32-26; as formal Big Five opponents, the Wildcats lead 30-25. The Wildcats have won the last seven contests, and will try to make it eight in a row against the Explorers on Saturday.  Villanova's seven-game winning streak is the longest either school has ever had, in this ancient rivalry.  The Wildcats have also won 11 of the last 13 contests, going back to 1994.

La Salle's last victory came on November 27, 2001, in Jay Wright's first season at the helm.  The Explorers won, 61-58, in overtime at the Pavilion. 

The respective campuses are separated by less than 14 miles.  But surprisingly, prior to the formation of the Big Five in 1955-56, the two geographically close Catholic colleges had faced each other only three times, in two seasons - 1933-34 and 1934-35.

The Wildcats won the first meeting, at what is now Jake Nevin Fieldhouse, on March 6, 1934, a close 25-23 victory.  There were two games the following year.  The first, at the now-defunct Philadelphia Civic Center (then known as Convention Hall), the Wildcats edged La Salle, 22-21.  A month later, at La Salle, the Explorers won, 29-23.  The series would lay dormant for another generation, however.

The City Series was officially proclaimed in 1955-56.  For 45 seasons, the Blue and White would meet the Blue and Gold every year.  From 1956-1983, every game was at the Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the home of Big Five basketball for much of its history.

The series hit its nadir in the 1990s, due to three factors- two from La Salle, and one from Villanova.  La Salle's unfortunate and disastrous decisions to both temporarily join a midwestern conference, and play all of their home games in the cavernous old Spectrum, had devastating effects on the success of its basketball program, from which even now, it has yet to fully recover.

From Villanova's end, the horrendous decision to withdraw from the full round-robin, for the entire decade of the 1990s, meant both the end of cherished traditions and justified animosity from Philadelphia sports fans.  As for Villanova / La Salle - they  were playing only every other year, in the Spectrum, and there was no appropriate atmosphere for this particular Big Five rivalry. 

In the 21st century, the rivalry began to recover, after La Salle had abandoned the Spectrum, and Villanova - to its inestimable credit - decided not only to resume the full round-robin in the City Series, but to agree to some games returning to the Palestra.  Since 2000, all nine Villanova  /  La Salle games have been at the Pavilion, the Palestra, or, for the first tim last season, La Salle's on-campus Tom Gola Arena.

One quirk in the rivalry has been La Salle's remarkable record at the Pavilion, since it opened in 1986.  The Explorers won their first four games in the Pavilion, from 1986-90.  After a decade's absence, the Explorers returned to the Pavilion, and lost, in 2000.  But they won in November 2001, giving them five victories in six appearances, a rare feat for any opponent.  Villanova has won the last two at the Pavilion, in December 2005 and December 2007, but La Salle is still 5-3 in the building,  That mark, as far as I can tell, the best record of any Villanova opponent, Big Five or otherwise, who has played enough games there to be meaningful.

Over the last two decades, Villanova's dominance in the series obscures the fact that the schools, at one time, were both roughly equivalent as basketball powers.  La Salle hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1991, but it was a powerhouse for a long time.  To illustrate - Villanova has won 11 of the last 13 games, but leads the overall series by only six.  La Salle led, all-time, until Villanova's victory in December 2003, at the Palestra.

Go Wildcats!

Happy Thanksgiving...

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!

E-mail -

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Preview - Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship - #5 Wildcats vs. Mississippi, 8 PM, Sunday - ESPN2

To the Wildcat faithful-

A preview of the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship, which will take place at approximately 8 PM, on Sunday, November 22, on ESPN2... (fans will no longer have to hunt around digital cable to find ESPNU...)

The Viewpoint on the Mississippi Rebels

2009-10 Record - 4-0 overall

#5 Villanova (4-0 overall) will be facing a challenge from another unbeaten squad.  Mississippi has not faced difficulty in its four games thus far, all of which it has won, by double-digit margins.

The Rebels opened the season with two home games in Oxford, Mississippi, crushing two low-major opponents.  They walloped Arkansas-Little Rock, 92-64, to open the season on Friday the 13th - see the previous entry on triskaidekaphobia.  Three days later, they had no trouble annihilating Alabama State, 90-53.

In Thursday's quarterfinal of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic, the Rebels breezed past once-powerful Indiana, 89-71.  Yesterday, in the other semifinal, Mississippi cruised to a 72-58 victory over Kansas State, after leading by just two at halftime.

2008-09 season - 16-15 overall, 7-9 SEC, 5th place finish in the six-team Western Division.

The Rebels fell in the first round of the SEC tournament in Tampa, against Kentucky, and did not qualify for postseason play.  As a major-conference team with a winning record overall and a respectable record in SEC play, it was surprising that the Rebels did not receive an invitation from the NIT.  It's even more puzzling, in light of the fact that Mississippi had reached the NIT semifinals in 2007-08 (more on that below...)

The team was plagued with injuries, but benefited from the impact of freshman Terrico White, named SEC Freshman of the Year.  White considered leaving early for the NBA, but ulimately withdrew his name, a break for the Rebels.  They did lose one other key player, though.  David Huertas, a guard who averaged over 18 points/game last season, gave up his senior year to play professionally, ironically in Puerto Rico.

The other standout for Ole Miss is Chris Warren, a junior guard who missed half of last season due to a knee injury, but had averaged 15.8 pts/game as a freshman, and 19.6 last year before his injury.  Warren had 27 points in the victory over Kansas State on Friday.

Junior guard Eniel Polynice also missed almost all of last season due to injury, but has played well thus far - he's scored in double figures in three of the last four games.  Sophomore forward Murphy Holloway has exploded in Puerto Rico, scoring 26 points against Indiana and recording a precise double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) against Kansas State.   In the paint, Mississippi has deterred opponents' shot;  freshman Reginald Buckner  has helped to provides that shot blocking presence; swatting three of K-State's shots on Friday.  As a team, Mississippi blocked seven K-State shots, as well as a dozen Indiana shots, in the quarterfinals.

With Villanova hampered by the unavailability of freshman Mouphtaou Yarou, due to illness, it may be difficult for the Wildcats to establish an inside presence.  The Wildcats will likely try to win by using their accurate outside shooters; a key factor could be whether Taylor King can help spread the Mississippi defense, due to his perimeter skills.

The school colors are Harvard crimson and Yale blue... here's why:
In 1893, when Ole Miss' first football team was in training for a five–game season, Dr. A.L. Bondurant, organizer and manager–coach, later recalled that "The team had much discussion as to the colors that should be adopted, but it was finally suggested by the manager that the union of the Crimson of Harvard and the Navy Blue of Yale would be very harmonious, and that it was well to have the spirit of both of these good colleges." These were adopted as the football colors, and have since been adopted by the University as its athletic colors.
Mississippi Basketball History

Although in the heart of football country, Mississippi basketball actually is more than a decade older than Villanova's program.  The Wildcats began play in 1920-21; the Rebels played their first game on January 28, 1909, against the memorably named Memphis Physicians.  As the Mississippi web site puts it:
Ole Miss plays its first organized basketball game, but the celebration is cut short by a 12-11 loss to the Memphis Physicians. Legend has it that Ole Miss led 7-6 at the half, but lost out in the second half when “with the wind at their backs, the Physicians overcame our half-time lead for a narrow victory.” The game was reportedly played outdoors on a court located behind the Lyceum on the Oxford campus.
Although the Rebels' program is older, it has been far less prominent than the one on the Main Line.  Mississippi did not qualify for the NCAA tournament until 1981, and has only been there five times.  Of those five appearances, they have only made it to the Sweet 16 once, in 2001.  Four of the five appearances came during the span of 1997-2001. 

In 1997, the Rebels made their second-ever NCAA appearance, 16 years after their initial one, but they fell to Temple in the first round.  In 1999, they defeated Villanova (more on that, later in the post, below).

Replayed Every March: Bryce Drew and Valparaiso in 1998

Ironically, the most famous Mississippi game in the NCAA tournament, was a game that they lost - in the first round, in 1998.   In one of the most dramatic, stunning underdog victories in the entire history of the tournament, the 5th-seeded Rebels lost to Bryce Drew and #12-seed Valparaiso, on a length-of-the-court, catch-and-heave triple at the buzzer.  (You've seen this play, at some point in your life, as it was an incredible ending; CBS uses it as a staple of their montages.)

The Rebels also have only been in the NIT, eight times.  Other than the Sweet 16 in 2001, the deepest that the Rebels have ever gone in March, was in 2007-08, when they enjoyed a strong run in the NIT.  Mississippi won three games and made it to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals, the first time in school history that it had ever played in the basketball mecca.  But Mississippi fell to Ohio State, which would win the NIT. 

Villanova / Mississippi Series History

The schools have only faced each other, on one occasion.  And it was one of the most heartbreaking NCAA tournament losses in Villanova's storied history.  On March 12, 1999, at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, the eighth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Rebels, 72-70.  The Wildcats had two shots on their final possession, in the waning seconds, but could not get any of them to drop...  That team featured Howard Brown, John Celestand, Brian Lynch, T.J. Caouette, Malik Allen, Brooks Sales, Rafal Bigus, and Jermaine Medley, among others...

The Wildcats trailed 72-65, with less than two minutes to play, but rallied for five points to draw to within 72-70, on a triple from Caouette and a basket from Allen, with 55 seconds to go; Celestand and Brown each had a shot on the last possession, but neither fell.  In the last game of their careers, Brown finished with 17 points and nine rebounds; Celestand, a dozen points; Allen, a junior at the time, led the team with 19 points.   

In particular, the Wildcats had enormous trouble dealing with Jason Harrison, from Mississippi; at 5-5, he was very difficult to trap.  Marcus Hicks scored 21 points, and Keith Carter (now an Mississippi broadcaster) added 18 points, and Jason Smith, 17 points.

The game, ironically, figures far more prominently in Mississippi history - that was the Rebels' first win - ever - in the NCAA tournament (which has been played since 1939).  As their timeline puts it:
March 12, 1999 
After losing a heartbreaker at the buzzer to Valparaiso just the season before in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the Rebels record their first NCAA Tournament win by defeating Villanova 72-70. Ole Miss did not make it to the Sweet 16 because Michigan State defeated the Red and Blue 74-66 in the second round.
For the Wildcats, the final season of the 20th century, was also the final NCAA tournament appearance, under Wright's predecessor, Steve Lappas.  During his nine years at the helm, from 1992-2001, Lappas-coached teams reached the NCAA tournament four times (1995, 1996, 1997, and 1999), but won only two games.  All six of Villanova's games were against lower seeds, but their record was 2-4.

The inability of the team to advance beyond the second round, was one of the major factors in his replacement by Wright after the 2000-01 season, after Lappas's final two teams narrowly missed at-large NCAA bids, and had to settle for the NIT.

This is a good segue, into an impressive accomplishment by Lappas - winning the Puerto Rico Shootout in 1996-1997.  Widely remembered as "the Tim Thomas year", the team featured such notables as Alvin Williams, Jason Lawson, Chuck Kornegay, and freshmen Lynch, Allen, and Caouette.

Ironically, Mississippi also won the San Juan Shootout, in 2007.

I'll have a comprehensive recap after the game...

Also, check out the fine Villanova blogs on the right sidebar, for their takes, on the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic Championship - Chris at I Bleed Blue and White already has preGame: #5 Villanova vs. Ole Miss ...

Go Wildcats!


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!


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Armwood's Astonishing Triple Helps #5 Wildcats Escape George Mason, 69-68, in Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic Quarterfinal

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

With 17 seconds to play today, and 'Nova down by two, it all seemed so familiar - a big, clutch, last-minute shot from a Villanova Wildcat with the number "34" on his back.  Curtis Sumpter would come to mind - and at first glance, many of even the most faithful of Villanova partisans would have seen that highlight, and assumed that it was an old game from several years back.

But it wasn't Sumpter - one of the premier players of the Jay Wright era on the Main Line, a member of Wright's first vaunted recruiting class of Sumpter, Randy Foye, Jason Fraser, and Allen Ray.  It was Isaiah Armwood.

Villanova's secret weapon today was Armwood, a freshman at the far end of the bench, who played only 13 minutes, in a 38-point victory over Penn on Monday night - the fewest minutes of any scholarship player on the squad.  A freshman player who is allotted just 13 minutes, in a game that his team leads 55-25 at halftime - it would largely be safe to say, that player cannot expect to play much that season.  The vast majority of Villanova fans would likely not yet recognize his name.

But Armwood has taken a major step, toward ending his relative anonymity on the Main Line.

Although Jay Wright was obviously far more familiar with Armwood's talents - having recruited him - the heroics likely came as a surprise to Wright, too.   To put it mildly, Wright was probably not anticipating that the ball would be in the hands of Armwood, trailing by two points with 17 seconds to play- a player who had yet to score a single point, in intercollegiate competition.  But yet, Armwood was the guy on whom Villanova's fate rested. 

And perhaps channeling the spirit of Sumpter, the Villanova standout who last wore "34", Armwood buried a three-pointer to stun the plucky, gritty, gold-and-green-clad George Mason Patriots.

By doing so, the fifth-ranked Wildcats improved to 3-0 overall, and will face Dayton tomorrow in the semifinals of the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic.

Any fan with a heart, had to feel for the players, coaching staff, and loyal GMU fans who had made the trip down to sunny San Juan.  The Patriots had led for almost the entire game, led by nine at halftime, led by five points with less than two minutes to play.  They had outplayed Villanova, gotten to more loose balls, committed fewer foolish fouls.  The Patriots really, really, really deserved to win today.

The fact that they had come so close, to toppling the #5 team in the nation, was heartbreaking, and I say that as a Villanova fan.  The basketball gods were at their cruelest today, teasing GMU with another major victory.  It wouldn't have been as memorable as upsetting Connecticut in the Elite Eight back in 2006, but it certainly would have entered GMU lore.

Of course, today's game will in fact enter George Mason lore - but as one of the gallant mid-major's most heartbreaking defeats.  Ever.  With two minutes to play, the Patriots had the lead.  But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Wright was out of post players.   Mouphtaou Yarou had unexpectedly gotten sick, and had been sent back to Philadelphia to recuperate.  Antonio Pena, Taylor King, and Maurice Sutton had all fouled out, leaving Wright with nothing but guards and wing players to play the rest of the game.  (Had overtime ensued, Villanova would have been in serious trouble.)

And if that weren't enough, Corey Stokes had also fouled out, after having a terrible day shooting.

It was nothing short of a miracle, that Villanova won this game.  The blessings of the basketball gods are fickle, and I suspect that someday down the line, Villanova will outhustle and outplay and outsmart a superior opponent, be teased with the prospect of victory...

and still lose, nonetheless, in soul-crushing fashion.  But that's for another day.


Looking at the Box Score

In addition to the generosity of the basketball gods, Wright has to be given credit for winning this game with a plethora of inexperienced players, playing out of position.

Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, two of the players who are expected to score, both turned in strong performances.  Reynolds played all but one minute, which was vital, given how shorthanded the Wildcats were today.  He finished with 18 points on 6-14 shooting, including 4-4 from the line.  His stats were diminished, however, by a dreadful running of the point - he finished with two assists while committing eight turnovers.

This was a highly unusual game - as strange a game as I've ever seen- in terms of the flow of play, the outcome, the constant turnovers, and the asymmetrical box score.  Villanova's second-leading scorer played 37 minutes and somehow missed all but one, of a dozen field goal attempts.  If that's your second-leading scorer's shooting accuracy, it's usually a loss.   But no matter how much Fisher struggled from the floor, he more than made up for it, from the line.

Fisher went 14-18 from the line, on a day that he went 1-12 from the floor.  (I've never seen a discrepancy like that.)   In addition to his 17 points, Fisher also contributed in other areas, grabbing five offensive rebounds (and six total), adding three assists and committing a single turnover.

Pressed into service by the foul trouble, freshman Maalik Wayns demonstrated the speed and quickness that made him such a highly touted newcomer.  Wayns, coming off the bench, logged 26 minutes, scored nine points, collected half a dozen rebounds, dealt four assists against one turnover.

Dominic Cheek helped hold down the fort, as he received 11 minutes, down from the 18 he played against Penn.  He had two rebounds and a steal, but did not score.

As noted, Armwood was an unlikely hero, as he played only four minutes, even with a desperately short bench.  He took only a single shot - but it was the one on which the outcome pivoted.

Now, turning to the four Wildcats who fouled out:

The best performance today from this group, was Pena.  He notched a double-double, with 10 points and a dozen rebounds, in only 27 minutes.  He was 4-5 from the floor, which was great, and 2-5 from the line, which could be improved.

By far, the biggest disappointment, in terms of offense, was Corey Stokes.  Stokes's performance, as noted by the analysts on the broadcast - was one that undoubtedly made him glad that the Wildcats get to play again tomorrow.  Stokes was hampered by foul trouble for the entire contest, limiting him to 22 minutes.

And even when Stokes was on the floor, he was ineffective.  He missed all three field goal attempts, finishing with a single point from the foul line, had no steals, no assists, and two turnovers.  The one bright spot were the five rebounds from a guard, but Villanova needed more from him today.  He fouled out with to play.

Taylor King's foul trouble kept him from having a major impact, as two of his fouls were very foolish.  His third, coming at the end of the first half, was particularly egregious.  He had immediately been sent in for the final minute with two fouls, undoubtedly having been told not to risk a third foul - which he promptly did, trying to take a charge in the lane.  He also committed his fifth foul, while aggressively contesting a shot in the lane.  The defense would have been commendable under different circumstances, but with so many frontcourt players in foul trouble, it was a bad move.

King finished with 17 minutes, eight points, four offensive rebounds, and some assorted tip-ins and tip-backs that didn't show up in the box score.  Had the Wildcats lost, the fact that King was only on the floor for 17 minutes would have been a major factor.

The redshirt freshman Maurice Sutton was pressed into service by the foul trouble, and he gritted it out.  His main role was to rebound, defend, and absorb five fouls.  Sutton finished with three points, four boards (three on the offensive end), a blocked shot in 17 minutes.

For George Mason, Ryan Pearson led the Patriots with 14 points and eight rebounds.  Two other Patriots had 13 points - guards Cam Long and Andre Cornelius.

The basketball gods were generous to Villanova in other ways.  Long, undoubtedly George Mason's best player, was plagued by leg cramps and did not play much in the second half - his 13 points came in just 22 minutes.  Cornelius, ordinarily the starting point guard, did not start due to, as the ESPNU broadcast reported, the fact that he "wore inappropriate attire" to the pre-Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic banquet yesterday.  As a result, he played only 26 minutes.  With two of the best Patriots limited, by the vagaries of health and banquet attire, Villanova still had to eke out a one-point victory, and play from behind for nearly the entire game.

Villanova shot only 19-53 (35.8%) from the floor, and only 23-39 (59.0%) from the line.  As analyst Fran Fraschilla noted, with intimidating shot blockers absent from the game, both teams were able to penetrate the lane easily and draw fouls, accounting for the large number of free throws.  George Mason was also mired in foul trouble; only one Patriot fouled out, but four others finished the game with four fouls.  On the other end, the Patriots went 27-37 from the line (73.0%). 

The Game Action

Villanova fell behind early, making only one of their first seven shots, and spent the entire first half chasing George Mason.  The Patriots took an early 8-2 lead, and didn't relinquish it for the rest of the half.  Pearson hit a jumper at the 10:02 mark to put George Mason up 21-8, their largest lead of the half.

The Wildcats counterattacked, embarking on a 15-5 run, which culminated with a Pena layup on a feed from Fisher, and causing Jim Larranaga to call timeout with 5:42 to play in the half.  The lead was down to 26-21.  But Mason regrouped, and launched a run of its own.  The most spectacular play was a dunk from Kevin Foster in transition, boosting the lead back to 37-27 with 24 seconds remaining.  A Fisher free throw trimmed it to 37-28 at halftime, but it was clear that this was not going to be like the Penn game.  Villanova was going to have to truly battle.

Looking at the halftime box, the fact that Villanova had two assists against a dozen turnovers summed up the half, as well as the 7-23 (30.4%) from the floor.

After play resumed, Villanova went on the attack, and it appeared that the superior talent was showing through.  Trailing by nine at halftime, the Wildcats tied the game for the first time since 0-0, when a three-pointer by Wayns deadlocked the game at 44 with 13:37 to go.

The teams continued to trade baskets, but it took a while for the Wildcats to move ahead.  Reynolds finally gave Villanova its first lead of the game with 7:08 to play, hitting a jumper to make it 56-54, Villanova, and Larranaga opted for another timeout at the 6:57 mark.

However, the war of attrition had begun to damage Villanova, as Wildcats were now fouling out.  Stokes fouled out at the 4:51 mark, and GMU's free throws boosted them to a 58-56 lead.  Less than a minute later, King fouled out, with GMU up 60-59.

The most devastating play - and the one which appeared to doom Villanova's hopes - was when Pena fouled out with 1:42 to play.  The resulting free throws gave GMU a 64-59 lead, and with three key Wildcats out of the game, there didn't seem to be much reason for optimism.

A Fisher free throw drew 'Nova to within 64-60.  A Sutton layup pulled the Wildcats to 62-60 with 1:21 left.  Still breathing.  Sutton fouled out with 55 seconds to play, leaving Wright with no post players.  George Mason increased its lead to 67-63 with 47 seconds left.

Wayns came up with a huge triple, slashing the lead to 67-66 with 41 seconds to go and providing some hope.  Armwood fouled Sherrod Wright, who made one of two free throws, and Mason was clinging to a 68-66 lead.  Cheek rebounded the miss, and Armwood worked his magic.

Of course, George Mason had the final shot, trailing by one with 17 seconds to play, but were never even able to launch a shot.  Heartbreak city.

Sights and Sounds

The George Mason pep band made the trip (Villanova's did not) and made the atmosphere as lively and fun, as an empty venue could be.  The bandleader was highly conspicuous, and the band played an eclectic mix of songs, such as Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (obviously, not a single member of the band was even alive when that song was out), and "Sell Out" by Reel Big Fish (a ska song which is well-suited for pep bands, with all of the brass).

The George Mason Patriot also appeared (the Wildcat wasn't there, or at least was not shown on camera).  The Patriot - while dressed in 18th-century garb to honor the historical George Mason, a Founding Father -  has his entire face colored one half green and one gold, and it would be a better mascot without the face paint.

Many of their fans, unsurprisingly, wore shirts commemorating its 2006 Final Four appearance.  They were having a great time until the last 17 seconds - and hopefully, Mason will win at least one game in San Juan, for those who made the trip from Northern Virginia.

Final ironic note:

Ironic because Sumpter was mentioned earlier in the post, Reynolds surpassed both Sumpter, and the legendary Paul Arizin, Villanova's Hall of Famer, on the school's all-time scoring list today.  Reynolds has now recorded 1,660 points in his career, and is currently ranked 12th.  The next stop is Larry Hennessey, who played from 1950-53, with 1,737 points. 

The Wildcats will now take on Dayton at 3 PM tomorrow, in the semifinals, also on ESPNU.  The Flyers outlasted Georgia Tech, 63-59, in the early game.   I'll have a full recap after the game.

Go Wildcats!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Preview - George Mason at O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Classic, Thursday, November 20, 2 PM, ESPNU

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

The #5 Wildcats (2-0 overall) are enjoying the tropical temperatures of the Carribean Sea this week, as they travel to the eight-team, O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Classic.

Here is a concise preview of the quarterfinal game, against George Mason, of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).  It will take place at 2 PM, and will be televised on ESPNU.

The Viewpoint on the George Mason Patriots

George Mason is a highly dangerous mid-major program, one of the most threatening in the nation, in fact.  For this basketball enthusiast, I will always have a soft spot for George Mason due to its incredible Cinderella run in the 2006 NCAA tournament, when they reached the Final Four as a #11 seed.  Along with LSU in 1986, George Mason holds the distinction of being the lowest seed in NCAA tournament history to successfully embark upon the metaphorical Road to the Final Four.

And for this avid Villanova enthusiast, the fact that George Mason advanced from the Elite Eight, by upsetting the #2 seed, the hated Connecticut Huskies, made the Cinderella run all the more sweet.  Seeing the Huskies going home, at the hands of the green-and-gold-clad Patriots, was incredible.  (It was one of the most satisfying NCAA tournament games that I've ever seen, before or since...)

Coach and Program - Jim Larranaga (13th season)

Larranaga has had tremendous success in Fairfax, Virginia.  When he first arrived in Fairfax for the 1997-98 season, GMU was in the doldrums - the Patriots hadn't posted a winning record, let alone a postseason bid, since 1990.  The team had won just 52 games over the past six seasons, averaging less than nine victories a season.  The team Larranaga had inherited, during the previous season, had gone 10-17 overall, 4-12 CAA, and finished in ninth place.

Larranaga's first team had similar struggles, understandably, and went 9-18 overall, 6-10 CAA.  But since then, his revival of the program has been little short of miraculous.  He has never had another losing season overall, and has posted a winning record every year within the CAA, except for 2007, when the Patriots went 9-9.  In summary, over the last 11 seasons, George Mason has qualified for four NCAA tournaments and two NITs, an impressive record for a mid-major program.

In 1999, his second team went 19-9, 13-3 CAA, won the CAA regular-season and tournament titles, and was invited to the NCAA tournament as a #14 seed.  Although the team made a quick exit at the hands of #3 Cincinnati, by a 24-point margin, the groundwork had been laid.

In 2000, the Patriots shared the CAA regular-season title, but didn't win the CAA tournament and did not reach the postseason.  In 2001, the Patriots returned to the NCAA tournament as a #14 seed, and nearly upset #3 Maryland (a cross-town rival in the Washington, DC region), losing just 83-80.

In 2002 and 2004, the Patriots made NIT appearances, and in 2005, they did not qualify for postseason play - all of which makes the 2006 Final Four even more remarkable.

Prior to its Cinderella run in 2006, George Mason had made the NCAA tournament only three times (twice under Larranaga), and had never won a first-round game.  So when they made one of the most stunning runs in the history of NCAA tournament, winning four games in a row against top-flight competition, it just goes to show that the basketball gods are often full of surprises.

After not reaching the postseason in 2007, the Patriots rebounded the following year, going 23-11, winning the CAA tournament, and returning to the NCAA tournament as a #12 seed, but fell to #5 Notre Dame in the first round...

Last season, 2008-09, George Mason had another superb season.  The Patriots went 22-11 overall, 13-5 CAA, good for second place.  They did not win the CAA tournament, however, and so headed to the NIT, where they fell in the first round.  Nonetheless, Larranaga has reached four NCAA tournaments and three NITs in the last decade, an impressive accomplishment for any team, but even more so for a CAA school.

The Unique Vulnerability of Playing in Holiday Tournaments

It's difficult for powerful mid-majors, such as George Mason, to get high-major schools (such as Villanova) to risk regular-season games with them.  One might ask then, why Villanova and other high-majors participate in exotic holiday tournaments.  The reason: these holiday tournaments attract high-major interest, becausee they do not count against the regular-season cap, which is why all of them will have an eclectic mix of high-major, mid-major, and low-major schools.

In short, this is certainly going to be the best chance George Mason will get this year, for a big, NCAA at-large bid-worthy, upset.  (Or an upset that could bump it up a seed or two, if they win the CAA tournament - the difference between a #13 and a #12 come March.)

Villanova is ranked #5, and the teams will be playing on a neutral court, neutral (i.e., non-Big East) officials, and a crowd that will undoubtedly be rooting passionately for the underdog Patriots.  The Wildcats, not surprisingly, are one of only two ranked teams on GMU's schedule (the other being another mid-major, #19 Dayton).  Ironically, GMU could also face Dayton on Friday in Puerto Rico - if both teams either win or lose Thursday.  Dayton and Georgia Tech are also on this side of the bracket, and so Villanova will get one or the other on Friday.

This will be the fourth meeting all-time, between the schools - two will have been in holiday tournaments:

December 3, 1986, @ George Mason - Villanova 82, George Mason 79

November 16, 1998 - Pavilion - Villanova 86, George Mason 76

On November 23, 2007, Villanova and George Mason met in the semifinals of another holiday tournament, the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Florida.  The Wildcats emerged with a 84-76 victory over the Patriots.

(As you can see, they were all relatively close).

The 2009-10 Patriots

George Mason enters the game unbeaten, having narrowly defeated Liberty in the opener, 76-72, and besting Dartmouth, 60-44.  Both games were at home.

GMU is short on experience, with only one senior.  They lost four seniors this year, including three of the starters from last year's NIT qualifier.  Seven players are in their first season, and four in their second.

The two remaining starters are their star, shooting guard Cam Long, a junior who was third-team all-CAA last season, and their only senior,  forward Louis Birdsong.  Long led the Patriots in scoring, steals, assists, and three-pointers, and was second on the team in rebounding with 4.8 a game.  Birdsong has started for three seasons, although he has only modest averages in points and rebounds.  He's being switched from the "four" to the "three" this season.

Three sophomores will be in the starting lineup - forward Ryan Pearson made the all-CAA Rookie team last season, while another forward, Mike Morrison, had a fine second half during last season.  Andre Cornelius is handling the point guard position, and is the biggest question for GMU.

Offsetting the lack of experience, George Mason did add, what some analysts believe, is the best incoming class in the non-BCS collegiate scene., in fact, named the George Mason class the best of the non-BCS-conference schools.  Obviously, given that much blue-chip talent, some of those players could have an impact.

Wildcats Update

Villanova enters the game on the heels of a 103-65 annihilation of City Series rival Penn, at the Pavilion on Monday night, and ranked 5th nationally.  The easy victory over Penn (the Wildcats led 55-25 at halftime) permitted Jay Wright to use plenty of the Villanova newcomers for significant lengths of time.  The Wildcats will not have suspended senior guard Reggie Redding, but are otherwise healthy.

Villanova is the most powerful team in the eight-school field, but that often means being a target, and George Mason is not likely to be intimidated, given the success of the team in the last few years.  This sort of game, especially on a neutral court, can be a minefield...

I'll have a full recap after the game.

Also, check out the other fine Villanova blogs, on the sidebar, for their takes.

Chris at I Bleed Blue and White has already written his preview - preGame: #5 Villanova vs. George Mason ...

And Brian at VUHoops has published Judging George Mason...

Go Wildcats!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

VUHoops, I Bleed Blue and White, 'Nova News, Villanovan Sports Blog - Penn Recaps, in Today's Various Viewpoints

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

Here's a rundown of what the other fine Villanova blogs had to say, about last evening's glorious victory over Penn, at the Pavilion, 103-65:

Mike at -
The Wildcats shot 58.7% from the field including 11-21 from behind the arc to extend their Pavilion winning streak to 30 games.
The new-look I Bleed Blue and White was particularly prolific on the victory over Penn: 

As Chris writes, in the main recap, "When Everything Is Working" :

...Any lineup that Wright put on the floor last night was gold. Hell, even Maurice Sutton and Isaiah Armwood, 2 guys who didn’t get much burn in the opener, were in the game while it was still, well, a game. That’s how much confidence Jay Wright appears to have in his 10 man rotation. Only Armwood (who went scoreless) did not score in the 1st half. Even Russell Wooten notched his 1st career points in garbage time as his lay-up put the Cats over the century mark....
Other pieces include Highlights: Penn gets Duked - which contains a YouTube set of highlights, and Two quotes that sum up the night ...

For his part, Brian compiled these post-Penn notes - Villanova-Penn Brief Postgame Notes... 

Nova News had "Nova Soaks Penn 103-65" - here's a quote:

Taylor King - Plays like a madman... I love it. He grabbed three rebounds in less than a minute after entering the game, then drained a three. He also made the Dwayne Anderson signature dive from behind steal. 14 points and 7 rebounds in the game... you can can see he's already turning into a crowd favorite.

Corey Stokes - "Only" made two 3-pointers for 14 points.

Antonio Pena - Got a legit double-double this time (12 points, 10 rebounds). He also had 2 blocks and and just 2 personal fouls. He's looked great, but the competition has been lacking. The true test will come in Puerto Rico.
Finally, Quick Recap: Villanova 103 Penn 65 appeared on The Villanovan Sports Blog - here's a quote:
Unlike the game against FDU this past Friday, Villanova took care of business early and blew away the Penn Quakers 103-65.  Up by 30 points at the half, Villanova once again let its depth shine as the team’s bench scored 46 points, led by the team’s leading scorer Maalik Wayns, who finished with 16.
Keep checking for new content...

Go Wildcats!  


Monday, November 16, 2009

#5 Wildcats Pulverize Penn Quakers, 103-65, at Pavilion

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

The #5 Wildcats may have felt that they had to get off to a better start, than they did in the season opener against Fairleigh Dickinson, on Friday the 13th.  On that ominous date, they led the Knights by just a single point at the break - although the Wildcats rebounded and easily won by 23.

Tonight, however, they decided not to let the suspense linger.  The Wildcats led 55-25 at halftime, en route to a thorough thrashing of City Series rival Pennsylvania.  The final score was 103-65!  Moreover, the Quakers - who fell behind 20-5 in the early going - were never remotely even in the contest, from tip-off.

More to come, as the evening continues,  on this momentous Big Five victory for Villanova (1-0 City Series, 2-0 overall). .....  so please check back for a fully detailed recap....


Here's the complete game story for this evening's glorious, City-Series-unprecedented victory over the Penn Quakers...  (For the exact details, where this game goes in the Villanova/Penn rivalry history, see separate post...)

But for right now, think of it this way- Villanova's 103 points represented the largest total ever mustered against Penn, of all 57 meetings between the Wildcats and Quakers.

The Game Action 

Villanova rocketed out to a huge advantage, and never looked back.

Penn's first - and only - lead was 5-4, less than two minutes into the game, on a three from Darren Smith.  It was shortlived, as less than 30 seconds later, Antonio Pena drained a pair of free throws to put 'Nova back on top, 6-5.  It was a lead that Villanova would never relinquish.  

The pair from Pena was the beginning of a 16-0 run for Villanova, which crushed Penn's confidence and morale from the get-go.  The Quakers were held scoreless for over five minutes during this jaunt.  The Pavilion crowd was engaged very early, and it permitted Jay Wright the opportunity to flash the vast plethora of weapons in his arsenal, this season.  Except for one, surprisingly - the lowly timeout.

Wright did not call a single timeout, during the game.  He said something to the effect, afterward, that although he's been a head coach at the collegiate level (both here and at Hofstra) for almost 500 games, he can't recall that he's ever had a game, where he didn't use a timeout.  Things really did go that well, for Villanova tonight.

After the 20-5 opening, Penn never even reduced the deficit to single digits, for the rest of the game.  They rebounded to score five unanswered points to cut it to 20-10.

But Villanova embarked on another big run, this time a 21-8 one, ending any flickering hopes for a Quaker comeback - the Wildcats now led 41-18, with four minutes to go, in the first half.  And the assault simply continued.  Even when Scottie Reynolds picked up his second foul at the 8:16 mark, Villanova already held a comfortable 30-16 lead, and it didn't matter much to take him off the floor.

The Wildcats ultimately would win the remainder of the first half, 35-15- taking a gargantuan, 55-25 lead into the locker room, at halftime.  

The Halftime Box Score - Villanova 55, Penn 25 

The numbers were glittering for 'Nova, and were withering for Penn.  The Quakers had missed 20 of their 27 shots (25.9%) from the floor, shot only 4-17 (23.5%) from three-point range, and had committed nine turnovers.  One of their key players, Jack Eggleston, had picked up two fouls and had played just nine minutes.  The Quakers had been outrebounded, 21-15.  They were a respectable 7-11 (63.6%) from the line, but that didn't even come close to offsetting all of the other negatives.

However, on the Villanova side, it couldn't have gone any better.  The Wildcats shot 18-31 (58.1%)  from the floor, 6-14 (43.9%) from three-point range, and a stellar 13-15 (86.7%) from the line.  The offense was humming, with 10 assists on 18 field goals, and only five turnovers.  In addition, the offense also showed a remarkable balance.  Nine different Wildcats had already scored points by halftime!

By intermission, two newcomers had come off the bench to help power the juggernaut.  Duke transfer Taylor King played 15 minutes, scoring seven points and securing half a dozen rebounds (four on the offensive end.  And freshman Maalik Wayns had come off the bench, to lead all scorers with 10 points, in just 10 minutes of action.   

As for the starters - Pena was well on his way to his double-double already, with eight points and six rebounds.  Corey Stokes had eight points, while Corey Fisher, running the offense, particularly while Reynolds was on the bench, had half a dozen points- and also half a dozen assists.  Freshman Mouphtaou Yarou had a great sequence in the final minute, when he made a pair of free throws, then recovered a King miss and laid it in at the buzzer, to give Villanova its 55-25 advantage. 

The Second Half

The game was never remotely competitive in the second half.  This was of enormous value to Villanova, as it permitted this still-assembling team, packed with newcomers, to give just about everyone significant minutes.  Any flickering hopes that Penn had entertained of a rally, were undoubtedly extinguished when Villanova opened the second half on a 7-0 run, climaxing with a dunk from Pena, delighting the packed-to-the-rafters Pavilion faithful.  The slam gave 'Nova a 62-25 lead, only 91 seconds into the second half.

Penn responded with a 6-0 run of its own, but the reduced deficit (now at 31 points) was their high-water mark for the rest of the game, if that can be imagined.  Villanova's lead continued to swell.

The Villanova lead peaked at 48 points, after Wayns drilled a three-pointer with 7:17 to play, giving the Wildcats an incredible 93-45 lead.  It was certain by now that Villanova would clear 100 points.

To Wright's credit, he emptied his bench, and no Wildcat played more than 26 minutes (Stokes); Pena, at 25 minutes, was the only one who played more than 21, in fact.  Yarou, ironically, fouled out with 3:03 to play, having played only 17 minutes.  As you can imagine, it's pretty rare in a lopsided, 103-65 game, to have a player on the winning team foul out.

This is for two reasons.  One is the fact that the benches are emptied, and so it's hard for one individual to even get enough minutes, to commit five fouls.  The other is that since you're ahead by such a huge margin, there's absolutely no reason to consider fouling anyone.

Walk-on Jason Colenda entered the game (to wild enthusiasm) at the 3:02 mark, with the score 97-55.   Which was the right thing for Wright to do, not to wait until the final minute.  Fellow walk-on Russell Wooten hit the floor, with 2:00 to play, and Villanova still one point shy of the century mark, holding a 99-55 lead.

And, of course, the Pavilion went crazy, when Wooten grabbed the rebound off an Isaiah Armwood miss, and laid it in to vault 'Nova over the century mark with 59 seconds to play - 101-59.  Colenda had a golden opportunity to score, as well, when he was fouled with 48 seconds to play - but unfortunately, he missed the front end of a one-and-one.  Penn actually went on a 6-2 run to end the game.

Final - Villanova 103, Penn 65. 

There were a lot of heroes for Villanova.

Half a dozen Wildcats hit double digits in scoring: 

Wayns (16), Reynolds, Stokes, and King (all with 14 each), Fisher (13, plus eight assists), and Pena (a dozen, plus 10 rebounds).

Worth noting - In attendance at the Pavilion this evening, in addition to the 1985 national-title legend Ed Pinckney (who also was a long time assistant coach here) being at the Pavilion, he was joined by another Villanova legend, Alex Bradley, class of '81 - another standout player from the Rollie Massimino era. 

Next Up for the Wildcats 

They head to sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rican Classic.  In the quarterfinals of this holiday tournament, they will take on George Mason on Thursday.  More about this tournament, as we get closer to game time...

Go Wildcats!

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