Saturday, January 23, 2010

#4 Wildcats Match Best Start Ever, Improve to 18-1 For the First Time In 59 Years, By Dispelling Red Storm, 81-71, at Madison Square Garden

To the Wildcat faithful-

It has been 59 years since the Villanova Wildcats started a season 18-1 - since the 1950-51 squad under the legendary Al Severance did it.  That was an unequaled start in Villanova's storied annals.  Until Saturday, that is.

The 2009-10 Wildcats equaled that mark, winning their 18th game in 19 tries this season, by squelching a determined St. John's team, to roll to a 81-71 victory at Madison Square Garden, at high noon.

St. John's had a superb first half, but the Wildcats clamped down on defense after halftime, and maintained a reasonable lead down the stretch to secure the victory.  Villanova improved to 7-0 in the Big East, as well - its best start ever in conference play, since it joined the conference back in 1980-81.

St. John's turned in a valiant effort, today, despite being overmatched.  The Red Storm fell to 2-5 Big East, 12-7 overall.  Dwight Hardy's 19 points off the bench were a team-high, while Philadelphia native Sean Evans had a dozen points, and D.J. Kennedy and Anthony Mason, Jr., each had 10 points.

The Wildcats were led by a diversified offense, with four players reaching double figures.  Today, the three point guards fueled the attack.  Scottie Reynolds provided his usual firepower, with a team-high 19 points on 6-12 shooting and a perfect 6-6 from the line, four assists versus two turnovers, three rebounds, and three steals.

Corey Fisher chimed in with 18 points on 5-9 shooting, 6-7 from the line, four rebounds, three assists against four turnovers (too many, but it was the only downside for him).  The real story, though, was freshman Maalik Wayns continuing his offensive explosion: 16 points on 5-8 shooting, 6-7 from the line - all in just 20 minutes.  Despite coming off the bench, Wayns has now reached double figures for the fifth time in the last seven games (despite playing 20 minutes or less, in six of those seven contests).

The Game Action

This was not an easy victory, by any stretch of the imagination.  The Wildcats started the game on the right paw, so to speak, building a 14-5 lead in the early going, after a jumper by Wayns at the 15:26 mark.  St. John's responded, however, with a 16-0 (!) run of its own, and was soon up 21-14.  The Red Storm lead would widen, however.  St. John's would take its largest lead of the game at 29-18, after a basket by Paris Horne with 8:09 to play in the half.  That is to say, over a 7:19 span, St. John's had made a 24-4 run.

Villanova chipped away at the lead, getting to within 30-28 with 4:37 to play, after a steal and layup from Fisher.  The Red Storm scored the next half a dozen points, and still held a 36-28 advantage with 2:42 to go.  Villanova made a charge prior to the half, and trimmed the deficit to just one, 38-37, after a jumper from Reynolds with five seconds remaining in the half.    

Why did St. John's win the first half?

Turnovers and assists.  Villanova committed a dozen turnovers in the first half, against four assists; St. John's had eight of each.  However, the Wildcats shot very well from the floor (51.9%), which is why they were still in the game, despite 12 turnovers.  Reynolds already had 11 points, while Fisher had 10.  It also did not help that Antonio Pena picked up two fouls and played just five minutes (although he made those five minutes count, scoring seven points and making all three of his field goal attempts).

The Red Storm also shot very well in the first half (56.5%), including 3-5 from beyond the arc.   Hardy came off the bench to score 13 points in 13 minutes.

But the Red Storm dissipated in the second half, shooting just 28.9% from the floor - their accuracy was literally halved.  They traded baskets with the Wildcats early in the half, and its last lead was 49-48, on a jumper by Omari Lawrence, off a turnover by Wayns, with 14:50 to go.  The upset bid was still alive.

Villanova took control of the game, however, by ripping off a dozen consecutive points.
Two dunks said it all:  Reynolds, in transition, fed Isaiah Armwood for a spectacular dunk, with 11:10 to play....  and it was followed by a dunk from Maurice Sutton to make it 60-48.  The Wildcats were now back in control...

St. John's managed another charge, drawing as close at 63-57 with 6:55 to go, and the upset still seemed plausible.  But Wayns sank a pair of free throws, boosting the Villanova lead to 65-57.  And then it happened again... Reynolds to Armwood, in transition, and Armwood threw down another dunk at the 4:48 mark.  It gave Villanova a 67-57 lead and effectively torpedoed any hope of a Red Storm rally.  After Armwood's dunk made it a 10-point lead, the Wildcats' lead never fell out of double-digits, till the buzzer.

Villanova's second half defense made all of the difference.  The Johnnies missed 17 of their first 21 shots to open the second half, giving Villanova the opportunity to take control.

Series History

This was Villanova's sixth consecutive win over St. John's, and seventh victory in eight games.  All-time, however, Villanova still has some catching up to do.  St. John's leads, all-time, 58-44.  As members of the Big East, Villanova has a slight advantage in regular season contests, leading 26-23 - in Big East tournament play, the Red Storm has won four of the six meetings.

This was also the Wildcats' fourth consecutive victory over the Red Storm, at Madison Square Garden.  Their most recent loss to the Red Storm there was on January 20, 2002, when they lost by two points, 65-63. 

Next Up for the Wildcats

Notre Dame comes to the Wachovia Center on Wednesday, January 27.  I will have a comprehensive preview - and please check out the other outstanding Villanova blogs on the right sidebar...

Go Wildcats!


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