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Big Win Keeps Villanova’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive

Just when we thought the big five was dead, the Villanova Wildcats step up with a huge 67-65 victory in a well-played, hard fought contest against Big East foe, the #13 Connecticut Huskies.  The win makes it 3 in a row for Jay Wright’s club and ended Uconn’s 10-game winning streak.Villanova was lead by Corey Stokes hot outside shooting in the first half, leading 33-27 at the break.  Stokes finished with 18 points in the game.  The second half was all Scottie Reynolds who scored 15 of his 18 points after the break.The Wildcats were able to overcome a big size disadvantage and 38-22 rebounding disparity in similar fashion as they have all year – with quickness.  Nova forced 13 turnovers including 9 steals that lead to many easy buckets.  Add the 9-20 three-point shooting and that is a winning combination for the Wildcats.Key plays in the last minute:

  • With 39-seconds and a two-point lead Scottie Reynolds coming off pick from Dante Cunningham drives to the basket with 7′ 3 Hasheem Thabeet on his hip and puts up a right hand floater high of the glass, ala Allen Iverson to give Nova a 4-point lead.
  • A.J. Price had a chance to tie the game with 6.9-seconds but missed the first of two free throws.
  • Dante Cunningham at the line with 4.9-seconds to go, missed the front end of a 1-and-1.  Antonio Pena tipped the miss back to Cunningham, secured the most important rebound of the afternoon.  He was fouled again with 2.3 seconds remaining and Cunningham hit the first free throw and missed the second.  Leading 67-65 the desperation heave from half-court proved fruitless for Uconn.

In my opinion this was the first of three straight must win games for Nova to be considered for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.  With a mediocre overall record (17-9) and .500 in the Big East conference (7-7) it’s clear the Wildcats need to rack up some quality wins down the stretch to build their resume for the selection committee. Up next, they face #24 Marquette at home then go to #23 Louisville next Sunday.  Those are the two tough games left on the schedule that Villanova really needs to win.  They finish up the regular season with South Florida and at Providence.If they can win out their resume looks like this going into the Big East Tourney:

  • 21-9, (11-7 in the Big East)
  • 8-4 in their last 12 games (last 12 is the new measure since seasons are longer)
  • Quality wins: Marquette, Louisville, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, George Mason
  • Bad loses: Rutgers, DePaul

I think that is good enough to make them at the very least one of the last 4 in.  Throw in a few wins in the conference tournament and they are a lock for the big dance.  For now, Jay Wright needs to have them fully focused on Marquette.

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Pesky Villanova Wildcats Turn Pitt Over in Win

Villanova's Malcolm Grant's quick hands knocks the ball loose from Pittsburgh's Ronald Ramon.Dante Cunningham’s 2 clutch free throws may have sealed the win for Nova, but it was 22 forced turnovers that made the difference for the Wildcats.  10 seconds left and a chance to win the game Pitt went to its bread and butter end-game play (see the win vs. Duke).  But without the playmaking ability of Levance Fields and against the quick hands and feet of Villanova, that play ended the same way the entire game played out for Pittsburgh.  With a turnover. 

This was a great bounce back win for Nova coming off a disappointing loss to DePaul in their Big East opener.  The Blue Demons shot 51% in that game, and it was apparent from the start of today’s game that Jay Wright had his team pick up the defensive intensity against Pitt.  Full-court pressing and trapping most of the game combined with a depleted back-court for the Panthers resulted in 11 steals and 22 points off turnovers for Nova. 

That suffocating defense and 39-7 bench scoring difference was just enough for Villanova to overcome a poor shooting day (33% from the field & 27% from behind the arc) and a sub-par game from leading scorer Scottie Reynolds (1-6 fgs 4pts).  With the game on the line, Reynolds did make a great pass that ultimately lead to Cunningham‘s game-winning free throws. Freshman Malcolm Grant picked up the scoring load with a career high 22 points on 6-12 from the field while suffering leg cramps late. 

“He’s incredible. He’s a freshman but he’s the heart and soul of our team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said about Grant. “I try to diminish that but I can’t. He’s really energized our team since he’s gotten here.”

Pittsburgh got another monster game inside from freshman DeJuan Blair (12pts & 15 boards) who gave the Panthers their last lead of the game with a fall-away shot after being bumped in the lane.

This was the Wildcats 5th straight victory over Pitt in the last 5 meetings at the Pavilion.  Hopefully Nova, currently ranked 16th in the country, won’t drop far in the rankings, having redeemed themselves after the DePaul loss against a tough, 13th-ranked conference foe.