Monday, January 11, 2010

White-Out Christmas: Reynolds, #4 Wildcats Still Stayin' Alive Against White Suited-Pitino, 92-84

To the Wildcat faithful -

(Left - the album cover for the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever; the disco group the Bee Gees (the three Gibb brothers) are in the center, and John Travolta as Tony Manero on the bottom.)

#4 Villanova had to travel to Freedom Hall in Louisville tonight, for a truly White-out Christmas - but the glare wasn't coming from snow outside Freedom Hall.  It was in Rick Pitino's wardrobe; "Respect the Suit" has been the 'Ville's mantra this year.

Rick Pitino has always been known for his national championship with Kentucky, his hair, and - most famously - being the best dressed coach in college basketball.

Well, he was - at least until this season.

Pitino wore a bright white suit, with a candy-cane red-striped tie and brown shoes.  It was noted during the opening sequence on ESPN that he has apparently made a habit of it this season, and the sight of Rick Pitino (of all people) dressed like Barry Gibb, is one that I never thought I'd have the opportunity to see.  This should have

But the visiting Wildcats overcame an incredibly sloppy game to triumph, 92-84, and continue the team's torrid start, its best since 1963-64.

Villanova improved its record to 4-0 Big East, 15-1 overall - its best start in 46 years, since the aforementioned squad went 17-1 to start the year.  Louisville fell to 3-1 Big East, 12-5 overall.

This game tipped at 7 PM and didn't end until 9:40 PM.  It was sloppy, choppy, marred with fouls, horrendous passes, turnovers, richochets, caroms, more turnovers, more fouls, and it was marvelous entertainment.  Let's take a look at why:

Each team had 23 turnovers (Villanova had 17, at halftime).

Each team also committed 33 personal fouls.  For Villanova, 10 of the 11 players committed at least two fouls (the lone exception being Maurice Sutton, who played a single minute).  Surprisingly, only Antonio Pena fouled out, though. 

For Louisville, likewise, ten of the 11 Cardinals committed at least one foul, with Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith fouling out. 

A Tale of Two Halves

It's a cliche, to be sure.  However, tonight was one of the rare games, where it's genuinely appropriate.  During the first half, Louisville looked like the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats, also coached by Pitino - a relentless, hounding turnover machine.

But in the second half, the Cardinals looked more like the team that entered the game without a national ranking-  with a 22-point loss to Charlotte and an 8-point loss to Western Carolina - and both of those losses coming at Freedom Hall.

In the first half, Villanova trailed by as many as 17 points, 38-21, at the 5:47 mark; it brings to mind the George Mason victory in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic, where the Wildcats also trailed by double-digits (13 to be exact).  Moreover, they looked atrocious.  The Wildcats were struggling enormously just to get the ball over the midcourt line.  With Louisville scoring tons of easy baskets off turnovers, they were able to reset their press and the cycle continued.  The idea that Villanova would not only rally to win,  but do so by an eight-point margin - and by leading for much of the second half seemed absurd.

The 17-point margin overcome was also the largest successfully overcome by Villanova to triumph, since rallying from 18 down against Clemson, in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, on March 14 of that year - the Wildcats won, 75-69.

It wasn't the best half for Wright, either, despite his sartorial superiority over Pitino.  (Wright opted to go with his usual dark suit, a purple shirt, with a purple-and-black striped tie).  He uncharacteristically lost his cool, due to what he perceived as missed calls, and began ranting at the officials, and was justifiably assessed a technical foul, a rarity now.  (Wright never accumulated many technicals, although they did occasionally appear, especially during his first couple of years as head coach on the Main Line.)  Analyst Bill Raftery noted that "this is the angriest I've ever seen him", and Raf's assessment was probably accurate.  After gettng the technical, Wright marched onto the floor (only about a foot away from the lane, in fact), and had to be restrained by the staff.  It was not Wright's finest hour.

(Also, Wright hadn't seen anything, yet.  The 33 fouls ultimately called, were the most in a single game, against any Villanova team he has coached, in his eight and a half seasons as head coach.)

It also didn't seem to help matters much.  For the Wildcats, the first half was a mess of bad, cross-court passes, passing only to the obvious target, backcourt violations (including a couple that should have been called, but weren't).  For a team as deep and experienced as 'Nova, it was as bad as a Wright-coached team could look.

To make the situation even more critical - the three best ball handlers - Reynolds, Fisher, and Wayns - were starting to sink into foul trouble, and Villanova was barely getting by, even with the better ball handlers on the floor.  If the forwards had to handle the ball at all, it was an adventure on every possession.

Much credit has to be given to Wright and the staff, for navigating the team through this game, with just Pena fouling out (and by the time he did so, the Wildcats had built a small cushion, and could afford to go with Mouphtaou Yarou the rest of the way.)  Fisher, Reggie Redding, Wayns, and Mouph all ended the game with four fouls, King and Isaiah Armwood with three.  ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, due to the mounting battle of attrition for both team, kidded that "the game will need to be finished with freshmen managers."

Speaking of Mouph, he brought it tonight.  He committed four fouls in his 14 minutes, but had three rebounds, a blocked shot and an assist.  With Pena in foul trouble, Wright badly needed another option to take up some space in the lane and defend.

Early in the game, Bilas called the viewers' attention to a neat inbounds play, where Wayns inbounds the ball to Mouph, from underneath Louisville's basket.  Mouph then gives him back the ball, while staying motionless and serving as a huge screen for the defender.  When they tried the play early in the game, it worked like a T, with Wayns drilling the triple; they tried it again in the second half, but either due to luck, faulty execution, or perhaps Louisville now being aware of it, Wayns' shot didn't go down.

So what happened in the second half?

Villanova stopped throwing the ball all over Freedom Hall.  Once the turnovers dried up, Louisville could no longer score easy baskets.  Their half-court sets were poor, and they encountered enormous difficulty in scoring (as you can see from their shooting percentages, discussed below).  Consider that the terrible totals include many uncontested baskets; their shooting percentage on contested ones would have been considerably worse if it were broken down.

Beginning late in the first half, Villanova went on a 42-20 run (if such a large period could be properly called a "run", but lacking a better term) and converted a double-digit deficit to a substantial single-digit lead in the second half.  The Wildcats, having trailed by as many as 17 in the first half, trailed by just 43-36 at halftime and took the lead for good in the second half.

Looking at the Box Score

Scottie Reynolds was - well - Scottie Reynolds.  Adding to his already endless numbers, he poured in 36 points, a season-high, to lead the Wildcats to a hard-fought victory.  Even by Reynolds' rarefied standards, it was a virtuoso performance.  It was, simply put, one of his greatest games, ever.  In fact, it arguably was his greatest game, ever.  The 36 points were the third-highest total of his career, trailing just his pair of 40-pointers (the first coming @ UConn as a freshman, where the Reynolds legend first began to develop, and at Seton Hall as a junior.)

Reynolds was 9-10 from the floor, hit all five of his three-point attempts, went 13-17 from the line, grabbed four rebounds and a pair of steals in just 30 minutes.  The only negative: his three turnovers against no assists, although there was plenty of blame to spread around, for the team's inability to get the ball up the floor reliably, during the first half.  He did all of this, on the road in a hostile environment, against a good team, and a relentless press.  It seemed that virtually everything he touched, went in.

Plus, he led the team back from a 17-point first-half deficit, when the #4 Wildcats appeared to be on the verge of being run out of the building, on their final visit to storied Freedom Hall, which is closing its doors after this season.

Maalik Wayns gave the Wildcats a 76-72 lead with a free throw at the 6:05 mark.  From that point, Reynolds scored Villanova's final 16 (not six, sixteen) points in the remaining time.  (Who scores 16 consecutive points in the final 6:05 of a close game?!?)

Two Wildcats chipped in a dozen points apiece: Taylor King and Corey Fisher.  King appeared to have suffered no ill effects after his frightening collision with Lazar Hayward, in the win over Marquette on Saturday- described by ESPN broadcaster Sean McDonough as a "stinger".  He played 23 minutes and went 4-6 from the floor, also collecting seven rebounds, screening, defending, and doing everything he normally does...  Fisher was 3-7 from the floor, three assists, four turnovers, three rebounds, and a pair of steals.

Minute for minute, the biggest contributor was Wayns.  Saddled with foul trouble, the freshman point guard saw only 15 minutes - but scored 11 points on 3-7 shooting, along with a pair of rebounds and assists, and no turnovers- a rarity for a Wildcat this evening.

As a team, the Wildcats were 9-13 (69.2%) from three-point range; it was the highest three-point accuracy for Villanova since shooting 14-20 (70%) in a victory over Boston College on January 14, 2004.

The Louisville Side of the Box Score

The Cardinals stayed in it, during the second half, due to their free throw shooting.  Louisville was 39-45 tonight, an incredible total in absolute terms, as well as percentage (86.7%).  It approached the all-time record, in fact, for a Villanova opponent, which was 42-50 by Rutgers on January 9, 1999 (the record for both conversions and attempts).

It helped to offset their dreadful shooting.  Louisville was a pitiful 19-60 from the floor (31.7%) and an even more anemic 7-33 (21.2%) from three-point range.  There's no way to determine this, of course, but it's highly unusual for a team to shoot over 86% from the line on the same night that they're shooting less than 32% of the floor.

Samardo Samuels led the Cardinals in all facets of the game.  He finished with 21 points on perfect 4-4 shooting from the floor and a stunning 13-13 from the line, plus seven rebounds and four blocked shots.  Edgar Sosa added 17 points on 4-11 shooting, plus three rebounds, and Peyton Siva added a dozen points off the bench, in just 11 minutes, prior to fouling out.

Sights and Sounds

Louisville's crowd was very cooperative with the white-out request; some students even wore their own Barry Gibb-esque white suits.  The white-out would be a great idea for Villanova.

Next Up for the Wildcats

Villanova will host the 12th-ranked Georgetown Hoyas, at high noon at the Wachovia Center, on Sunday.  There will be a preview later in the week, so please check back...

Go Wildcats!



Anonymous said...

This was a phenomenal eye-opener to me about just how good this Villanova team can be.

To be down 17 points to a Rick Pitino-coached team, in Freedom Hall, with the place going insane and practically blinding the visitors with white -- well, to come back and win by eight is truly an accomplishment.

Great job by the team. Great job by the coaches. These guys are mentally, tough, tough, tough.

Astounding game from Reynolds. I love the freshmen. Maalik is truly something else. Yarou is going to be a beast as he develops. Wonderfully coordinated athlete for such a big man. Enormous contributions all over the floor from Taylor King. And you know, we have just become so much tougher mentally and physically with the return to the team of Redding and Yarou.

That '63-'64 team was a great one. Think that was the one where Duke's Mullins knocked us out of the NCAA tournament. Whatever happens with this team, it has the potential to be another great one.

I'm beginning, for the first time, to think that the coaches who picked us to win the BE knew what they were talking about.

Great win.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the extended comment. My thoughts:

I agree completely that the rally under highly adverse circumstances, is a great reflection of the team's ability to avoid becoming rattled, especially on the road, and it will serve them well in future games...

Mouph really helps. Although he's not polished yet, he has some game and it helps to have another big man available, if Pena is in foul trouble...

On 1963-64-

Your memory, unsurprisingly, is correct. That team ultimately went 24-4 under Jack Kraft - three coaches ago.

Worth noting - there was a consolation game, and so the NCAA tournament loss to Duke (with Mullins, as we had discussed last year during the NCAA Duke game) was not the end of the season. The Wildcats beat Princeton, 74-62, in the consolation round.

So, the future looks bright - I'd certainly be happy with another 24-4 this year...

Go Wildcats!