To the Wildcat faithful-
On Saturday at high noon, the #7 Wildcats delivered an incredible victory, in what can only be described as one of the greatest wins of the Jay Wright era on the Main Line. Wright continued Villanova's remarkable success at the Carrier Dome, guiding the team to a stunning, 83-72 victory over the #3 Syracuse Orangemen. (I know it's not officially the Orangemen any longer. I will continue to use the term, nonetheless...)
Maalik Wayns led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 21 points on 6-11 shooting, 3-7 from behind the arc, and perfection from the foul line, on half a dozen attempts.
Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes also contributed 16 points apiece. Fisher was 4-8 from the floor, 3-4 from beyond the arc, and also dealt seven assists against four turnovers. As for Stokes - the Bayonne Bomber was 5-12 from the floor, and was also 4-11 from three-point range.
Also reaching double figures for Villanova was Antonio Pena, who quietly added 10 points and seven rebounds - I was hoping that he'd bring in yet another double-double. And uncharacteristically, Pena also added four assists. To get four assists from a power forward, is a testament to Pena's improved passing ability and the quality of the Villanova offensive system.
Syracuse's trademark, traditional 2-3 zone, dovetailed well with a solid strategy - prevent Villanova from running a halfcourt offense designed to get the ball inside to Mouphtaou Yarou. The Orangemen succeeded in doing so, with the result being that Mouph was rendered almost a non-factor. Despite not committing a personal foul, the sophomore center saw only 25 minutes, scoring seven points on 3-7 shooting and collecting four rebounds.
One bench player contributed significantly, as well. Maurice Sutton - just two games removed from serving a one-game suspension for violation of a team rule - saw a surprisingly high 15 minutes, with five rebounds, and two blocks. Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood saw comparatively little action - combining for 19 minutes, five points, and four rebounds. (James Bell didn't see any time.)
The Wildcats ran their record to 17-2 overall, and are poised to jump significantly in Monday's AP poll.
It was anticipated that the game might break the record for the largest on-campus crowd to see a college basketball game. It joined the top three (also Villanova/Syracuse clashes), but ended up as only the second-highest, finishing slightly lower than Villanova's humiliating defeat at the Carrier Dome last season.
Keys To the Villanova Victory
Clutch Free Throw Shooting. The surprisingly large 11-point margin of victory, was sustained by Villanova's incredible performance at the foul line. The Wildcats, of course, lead the Big East in free throw percentage, but even by lofty Villanova standards, it was outstanding - the Wildcats made 22 of their 24 attempts, for 91.7% accuracy (Gary Buchanan-esque, for those of you who remember....)
Accurate Sharpshooting. Villanova made 50% of its field goal attempts against a very tough Syracuse defense, including 45.8% from beyond the arc. The Wildcats were red-hot out of the gate, and as a result, were able to maintain a substantial, steady lead throughout the entire contest.
Staying Out of Foul Trouble. With the Wildcats having such a short bench, and with a tendency to sink into foul trouble, it was a non-issue. Incredibly, Villanova committed only 10 fouls in the entire game, of which Cheek, a bench player, committed three.
Speaking of fouls - this was something odd and noteworthy -
On the last possession of the first half, Villanova was set to inbound the ball with 4.9 seconds to play, under its own basket. Syracuse had committed only four fouls, and the one-and-one doesn't begin until the seventh foul of the half.
Jim Boeheim decided that he was better off having one of his starters, Scoop Jardine, commit two deliberate fouls, to make it difficult for Villanova to exploit the 4.9 seconds on the final possession. He is a Hall of Fame coach, with a national championship, but with all due respect to Boeheim, I disagreed completely with his strategy. I was more than happy - as I suspect Wright was - to accept the loss of a 4.9 second possession, in exchange for two cheap fouls on one of their starters. And the further irony - the Wildcats still almost scored at the buzzer, with a shot clanging off the rim, on their third attempt after the two fouls.)
I would have found it more understandable, if Boeheim had sent in a couple of reserves to commit the fouls. (He did, after all, have an entire bench available - he could have just as easily sent in two end-of-the-bench players to commit them.) But why one of his starters?
This Victory in Historical Context
This was the first time Villanova had defeated a team ranked this high on the road, since the memorable 1995 victory at Connecticut, on a team featuring Kerry Kittles, Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams, Eric Eberz, Chuck Kornegay and others.... (We won't draw the parallel to that team's ultimate fate in the NCAA tournament, though - the triple-overtime-loss to #14-seed Old Dominion in the first round.)
Next Up For the Wildcats
A trip to lowly Providence is on tap for Wednesday, but Providence has traditionally been a very difficult place for Villanova to win, which we'll discuss further later in the week. But if Villanova plays the way they did on Saturday, the Friars shouldn't be too much to handle...