Monday, February 08, 2010

#4 Wildcats Top #5 West Virginia, 82-75 - Splitting Blizzard Road Trip After Saturday's Debacle in DC

To the Wildcat faithful-

You win some, you lose some.  Saturday's debacle at then-#7 Georgetown was put in Villanova's snow-drenched rear-view mirror last night - and thanks to poor visibility, was not even noticed tonight.

The Wildcats, humbled to merely being the #4 team nationally in the AP poll, came up big in response.  Villanova attained arguably its most impressive victory yet this season, in Morgantown on Monday night, 82-75.  It was the first time this season, even after over 4,000 games in Division I basketball nationally, that any two teams in the Top 5 had directly faced each other, head-to-head.

And hopefully, Villanova will remain in that Top 5, for a very long time.

Any win in Morgantown is impressive.  The last Villanova team to win there, had been the fourth and final NCAA team under Steve Lappas - the final Wildcats squad of the 20th century.  A team led by Howard Brown, John Celestand, and Malik Allen, won there, 73-62, on January 23, 1999 - over a decade and two U.S. Presidents ago...  Since then, four Villanova Wildcats squads had headed down there, and come up empty...

The Wildcats improved their record to 10-1 Big East, 21-2 overall, rebounding from their first loss in conference play.  The Mountaineers fell to 8-3 Big East, 19-4 overall.

For a Mountaineer perspective on last night's victory, I'd highly recommend this piece from The Smoking Musket, by Dr. Charley West... "The Win Streak Is Over - Villanova Beats WVU"

Looking at the Box Score

For Scottie Reynolds, who had historically not played well at West Virginia (like most visitors), it was a masterful performance in the second half.  Reynolds had a grand total of two points in the first 27 minutes of this game tonight - and then 19 in the final 13 minutes.  He finished with 21 points on 5-10 shooting, including a perfect 10-10 at the line, five assists, and three steals.  He passed assistant coach Doug West - with whom he had so memorably - and disastrously taken the Washington Metro on Saturday - on the Villanova all-time scoring list, and now ranks fourth.

Corey Fisher finished with 17 points, after a career-high 24 points against Georgetown on Saturday.  He did so in only 22 minutes, although the main reason for that was that he committed three remarkably poor fouls, taking himself off the floor, not only for part of the first half, but for almost all of the second.  Granted, he shot well from the floor (4-5) and the line (7-10), but he really hurt the team tonight with the fouls.  

The third one came in the first half, after Fisher got caught out of position on a rebound, and he clobbered Mountaineer Joe Mazzulla, on a breakaway in transition.  (It was the sort of play that could serve as the model for "This is the textbook example of the from-behind, no-legitimate-attempt-to-play-the-ball hard foul that we are - and with complete justification - cracking down on.")  This play not only took him off the floor, but gave West Virginia an additional possession that it shouldn't have had.

Antonio Pena, once more, came up big.  Near the end of the game, Pena properly received praise from ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, for the quality of his interior defense in particular, and his overall improvement in general.  He just missed a double-double, with 10 points on 5-7 shooting (with some impressive dunks!), and nine rebounds.  Pena had three easy dunks tonight, and they were because he positioned himself to seal off his defender and have an unimpeded path to the basket.  He ran a great pick-and-roll with Reynolds for his third dunk in the second half.

Reggie Redding continues to contribute in many ways.  He filled out his box score line tonight, scoring nine points on 4-8 shooting, and collecting seven rebounds and three assists.  But his most valuable contribution was in shutting down West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler in the second half.  

Last year, Butler scored a career-high 43 points, against the Wildcats in Morgantown.  This year, he scored 33 points in their most recent victory, @ St. John's.  In the first half tonight, Butler already had a dozen points, although on just 2-7 shooting.  But after intermission, Butler was held without a basket for the rest of the game, with just one point at the foul line.

Tonight, Butler - despite playing all 40 minutes - scored just 13 points, and he had a horrendous shooting night: he missed 10 of his 12 field goal attempts overall, and went just 2-9 from beyond the arc.  Seven of the 13 came at the line.  In the second half, Redding had clamped down defensively on Butler, and effectively took him out of the game.

Isaiah Armwood, an increasingly valuable member of the rotation, saw 18 minutes tonight, and his defense helped considerably.  He also chipped in on offense, scoring eight points on 4-6 shooting and grabbing four offensive rebounds.

Taylor King, even by his standards, was throwing himself all over the court and frequently coming up with a key rebound; he had a rare and remarkable statistic - eight rebounds, but with no points (0-6 from the floor).

Jay Wright did make some atypical personnel decisions, although they certainly worked out.  Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou each saw 16 minutes in Saturday's disaster at Georgetown.  Mouph didn't get into the game at all, as Maurice Sutton handled the post duties off the bench.  Sutton's 11 minutes were the most he has played, since Yarou was sidelined with hepatitis earlier this season; the last time Sutton had seen more than nine minutes, was in the victory over St. Joseph's, back on December 9. 

As a team, Villanova outclassed West Virginia mightily in accuracy.  The Wildcats were 56.9% from the floor, the Mountaineers 41.0%.  From three-point range, Villanova hit five of its 11 attempts (45.5%), while West Virginia hit only seven of its 27 shots (25.9%).  

At the line, Villanova was at its best - 19-22, an 86.4% clip.  The Mountaineers were mediocre at the line, with only 56.2% (18-32).  The foul line performance is particularly telling, since Villanova had only two free throw attempts (both made) in the first half, while West Virginia was 11-16.  After play resumed, the Wildcats were 17-20; the Mountaineers were just 7-16.

The Mountaineers did benefit from a well diversified attack, as five players scored 11 points or more: Darryl Bryant (15 points), Butler and Devin Ebanks (13 points), Casey Mitchell (a dozen points, including three triples and a Coliseum-rocking dunk in the second half), and Kevin Jones (11 points).

The Game Action 

The Wildcats opened up an early 21-10 lead, and they were able to hold that lead for the rest of the game.  The West Virginia Coliseum, normally one of the most difficult venues in America for a visitor, was quiet for much of the night, and Villanova's early lead made that possible.  That is not to say that there weren't times, when the crowd was really in it.  But the real storyline was how often the sellout crowd was silent.  The Wildcats never lost their lead, although West Virginia did make several runs at it...

The first-half lead peaked at 13, at 32-19 with 6:14 to play, after a jumper by Fisher.  It never dipped below single digits, and the Wildcats took a 44-33 lead into intermission.  At this point, no fewer than nine Wildcats had scored; the only Wildcat who saw action and didn't score was King (who would be held scoreless in the second half, also).  Butler's dozen points were expected; what wasn't expected was the performance by the Turkish player Deniz "Istan-bull" Kilichi (I first learned about that nickname, thanks to the West Virginia blog, The Smoking Musket.).  Kilichi had seven points and two rebounds, as well as a knack for turning up in the right place to influence play.

West Virginia came out strong in the second half, trimming the lead to 45-40.  A Reynolds three-point play capped a Villanova counterattack, pushing to lead to 53-43 at the 12:23 mark.  Then came the Mountaineers' final push - they whittled the lead all the way down to just three points, with the big play coming with a turnover by Reynolds near mid-court.  Ebanks had a spectacular, uncontested dunk the other way, which elated the crowd behind their Mountaineers.  Villanova's lead, once solidly in the double-digits, was now just 62-59 with 8:13 to play.

But that would be the closest that West Virginia would get - they once more got it down to three, at 64-61, but never got any closer.  The Villanova lead peaked at nine down the stretch, after a layup from Redding with 2:23 to go.

The Mountaineers were still close enough in the final two minutes, to foul a great deal, and so the game was somewhat elongated and slow.  Many fans had already left, and so it was pretty quiet at the end.

I must give props to the ESPN broadcast team of Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Bilas, who had a lot of witty banter, as well as substantive analysis, and really made the game even more enjoyable to watch.  

(You may not have noticed - there was a lengthy discussion about traveling and walking in the first half, and Raf said something to the effect of "Villanova and all of these walks!  I feel vindicated now!"  This was a reference to the 2005 Sweet 16 one-point loss to eventual national champion North Carolina in Syracuse, when Allan Ray was whistled for a traveling call at crunch time, and Raf, doing the game for CBS, had agreed with the decision..)

Next Up for the Wildcats

The Providence Friars make their first-ever appearance at the Wachovia Center, on Saturday afternoon... 

Go Wildcats!


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