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Nov. 21, 1997

Villanova Takes on Bradley

November 29, 1997 - 8:05 p.m. (ET)
Peoria, Ill.
Carver Arena (10,825)

Game Information
Television WEEK-TV (Peoria)
Radio WPHT-FM (1210 am)
Talent Andy Musser, Whitey Rigsby
Series Info Tied, 1-1
Last meeting VU 70-63, 11/29/95
VU Coach Steve Lappas
103-57 (.643) / 6 yrs. (VU)
159-119 (.572) / 10 yrs.
BU Coach Jim Molinari
101-80 (.558) / 7 yrs. (BU)
143-97 (.579) / 9 yrs.


Last Time Out
Villanova: The Wildcats have not been in action since Nov. 14, 1997, when they took on Minnesota in the BCA Classic in the Target Center in Minneapolis. Minnesota defeated Villanova, 68-55, with four Golden Gophers posting double figures in the contest. The Wildcats were led by senior Zeffy Penn, who registered 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, while Rafal Bigus added 12 points. Minnesota limited Villanova to 38.2 percent shooting from the field in the game, while converting 40.3 percent from the floor. Villanova won the battle of the boards, 47-41. The Gophers jumped out to a 16-4 lead in the first quarter and led 39-16 at the intermission. Villanova came back in the fourth quarter, outscoring Minnesota 20-8.

Bradley: Bradley faced SE Missouri on Nov. 26, 1997, at Carver Arena.

Probable Villanova Starters
No. Pos.    Name                            PPG     RPG
#15 F       Malik Allen (So., 6-10, 240)    8.0     8.0
#33 F       Zeffy Penn (Sr., 6-6, 195)      13.0    11.0
#31 C       Rafal Bigus (Jr., 7-1, 270)     12.0    9.0
#21 G       Brian Lynch (So., 6-6, 185)     4.0     2.0
#13 G       John Celestand (Jr., 6-3, 175)  4.0     6.0
Probable Bradley Starters
No. Pos.    Name                            PPG     RPG
#3  F       MATTHEW LEE (So., 6-8, 223)     3.7     1.3
#40 F       ED CAGE (So., 6-7, 223)         4.3     2.7
#55 C       A. AKINKUNLE (Sr., 6-8, 221)    14.0    8.7 
#4  G       ROB DYE (So., 6-1, 180)         14.3    3.0
#10 G       ERIC ROBERSON (So., 6-4, 175)   9.3     8.0
Please note:  Bradley record and statistics does not include game on 11/26/97.

Villanova-Bradley Series Notes
These two squads have played twice throughout history, with each team winning once. Bradley won the first meeting, 58-56, an overtime shootout at the Rainbow Classic in 1985 that featured the Braves' All-American Hersey Hawkins. Villanova captured the last outing by a 70-63 margin in a wild affair in which three players were ejected from the game for fighting. Villanova's Jason Lawson and Chuck Kornegay, and Bradley's Ben Coupet were lost with 1:42 remaining in the first half and the score 26-24 in favor of Bradley. The Braves went on to secure a 30-27 lead at the intermission amid the controversy. The second half was a see-saw battle, with four ties until the 2:19 mark of the period. At that point, Alvin Williams made a key steal for a Kerry Kittles layup and foul shot, and the Wildcats converted five of six from the charity stripe to secure the win. Due to NCAA rules, Lawson and Kornegay did not compete in the Wildcats' following game with St. John's, a contest Villanova won 83-68.

The Coaches
Villanova   Steve Lappas 
    103-57 (.643) / 6 yrs. (VU)
    159-119 (.572) / 10 yrs.
Bradley Jim Molinari
    101-80 (.558) / 7 yrs. (BU)
    143-97 (.579) / 9 yrs. 

Next Up
Villanova: The Wildcats will face Georgetown in its Big East Conference opener on Dec. 3, 1997, at 7 p.m. in the Hoyas' new MCI Arena.

Bradley: The Braves return to action on Dec. 6, 1997, taking on Oakland at Carver Arena.

Villanova-Bradley Comparison
(One game VU totals; Three game BU totals)
VU      BU
55      Points Scored       188
55.1    Avg. PPG            62.7    
26-68   FG-FGA              64-145
.382    FG Pct.             .441    
1-18    3FG-3FGA            15-38
.056    3-Pt. Pct.          .395
2-4     Free Throws         45-70
.500    FT Pct.             .643
68      Points Allowed      174
68.0    Avg. Allowed        58.0
47      Total Rebounds      105
47.0    Avg. RPG            35.0
+6.0    Rebound Margin      0.0
14      Assists             40
14.0    Avg. APG            13.3
20      Turnovers           47
20.0    Avg. TO Per Game    15.7
5       Steals              12
5.0     Avg. SPG            4.0
All-Time Series
Tied, 1-1
12/29/85    Neutral     L   56-58 (ot)
11/29/95    Pavilion    W   70-63

Lappas and Non-Conference Opponents
Currently in his sixth season at the helm of the Wildcat program, head coach Steve Lappas has posted a mark of 44-15 (.745) versus non-conference opponents during his tenure. In his first year on the Main Line, the Wildcats were 5-3; in 1993-94 Villanova recorded a mark of 10-3 in non-Big East games. In 1994-95, the Wildcats registered a mark of 8-3, and in 1995-96 they were 11-2 out of conference. Last season, Lappas posted a mark of 10-3 in non-league contests, while Villanova is 0-1 in 1997-98.

Wildcats versus the Missouri Valley Conference
Villanova owns a 5-3 (.625) record versus teams from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Wildcats have played only four teams throughout history from the 10-member league, posting a 1-1 mark versus Bradley, 3-0 versus Creighton, 0-1 mark against Southern Illinois, and 1-1 record against Wichita State.

Impressive Debut
Wildcat freshman Marvin O'Connor registered an impressive collegiate debut against Minnesota, playing 14 minutes and scoring 10 points on five-for-11 shooting. The Simon Gratz graduate was one of three double-figure scorers for the Wildcats in the game. Additionally, O'Connor's double-digit effort marked the 15th time since 1973-74 when freshmen became eligible that a first-year player posted 10 or more. Last season Tim Thomas scored 15 points versus American-PR, while the most impressive performance by a freshman in his opener came in 1977 when Alex Bradley posted 26 points in a 102-70 victory over Merrimack.

Frontcourt Steps Up
In the Wildcats' opener versus Minnesota, the starting frontcourt of center Rafal Bigus, power forward Malik Allen, and small forward Zeffy Penn were the bright spot, combining for 33 points, 60 percent of the Wildcats' total output. Penn led the squad with a career-high 13 points and 12 boards, while Bigus posted a career-high 12 points and nine boards. Allen rounded out the trio with eight points and eight boards. The trio has limited experience, with only three career starts on their combined resume prior to the 1997-98 season, and a career scoring average of only 7.8 ppg (Bigus 2.6 ppg, Penn 3.2 ppg and Allen 2.0 ppg). In fact, entering the season, the three players had scored only 456 total combined career points.

Starting from Scratch
The Wildcats will be virtually starting from scratch this season, with only one starter returning to the 1997-98 lineup, as Chuck Kornegay, Jason Lawson, Tim Thomas, and Alvin Williams have all departed. Combined, the quartet amassed 4,244 career points and 2,142 career rebounds during their varied tenures at Villanova. In addition, the Wildcat seniors from a year ago (Kornegay, Lawson, Williams) compiled 95 victories during their four-year stint, the most wins by a class in school history. The class of '97 surpassed the class of '85, which posted a record of 92-38 and won the NCAA title in 1985.

John Celestand is back as a starter at guard, and is Villanova's leading returning scorer as well with an average of 8.3 ppg from a year ago. Only 30.2 percent of the Wildcats' scoring from a year ago returns, as well as only 30.4 percent of their rebounding. Howard Brown and Malik Allen are the team's leading returning rebounders with an average of 2.9 rpg each from last season.

Tough Schedule
The young Wildcats have an extremely difficult early schedule, going on the road for three-straight road games to open the season and four of their first five: at Minnesota (neutral court, but in Minneapolis), at Bradley, and at Georgetown to open the Hoyas' new MCI Center in Washington. Villanova's first home game is on Dec. 6 when Big East rival Seton Hall comes to the Pavilion, but the Wildcats get thrown back into the fray on Dec. 10 when they head to Durham, N.C., to take on the highly-rated Duke Blue Devils.

Villanova and the NBA
Last season, three Villanova players were taken in the NBA Draft's two rounds, the highest number from any school in the nation. Tim Thomas was selected with the No. 7 pick by the New Jersey Nets, and was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, while Jason Lawson was chosen with the No. 46 selection by the Denver Nuggets. He, too, was traded later in the evening to the Orlando Magic. Alvin Williams went to the Portland Trail Blazers with the No. 48 pick.

In addition, over the last two years, Villanova has had four players selected in the Draft, with Kerry Kittles chosen by New Jersey with the No. 8 pick. Those four players selected in two years rates as the nation's second-highest number (Kentucky with six is first).

Wildcats Drop Season Opener
For only the seventh time in its 78-year history, Villanova lost its season-opening game in a 68-55 defeat at the hands of Minnesota. The last time Villanova lost its season opener was during the 1991-92 season when the Wildcats were defeated 79-49 by Houston. The defeat also marked the first time in the Steve Lappas era that the Wildcats lost their debut, as the coach has recorded a mark of 5-1 in season openers since his arrival on the Main Line.

Bouncing Back
Over the last three seasons, the Wildcats have bounced back well after a defeat, dropping back-to-back contests only twice since the end of the 1993-94 campaign. In addition, throughout history, Villanova has started the season 0-2 only three other times: 1991-92 (lost to Houston 49-79 and Georgia Tech 59-80); 1931-32 (lost to Seventh Regiment 25-27 and Manhattan 11-28); and 1928-29 (lost to St. Bonaventure 17-28 and Baltimore 28-32).

No Longer a Sixth Man
Senior captain Zeffy Penn returns for his final year in a Wildcat uniform after sitting out last season as a redshirt. As a junior in 1995-96, Penn played in every game and averaged 4.7 ppg and 3.1 rpg, primarily as a sixth man. Against Bradley, he will be starting only the third game of his career. His prior starts came on Dec. 2, 1995, versus St. John's when he filled in for Chuck Kornegay, and in this season's opener with Minnesota. Penn has risen to the occasion in his new role as leader, pacing the Wildcats with 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Both numbers rate as personal bests in those categories during his career.

Throughout his career, Penn has become a favorite of the crowd and student body. He is currently student-teaching at Furness High School in Philadelphia, and has already graduated from Villanova with a degree in Secondary Education. In addition, Penn is studying to become a Eucharistic Minister and serves as a mentor for freshman student-athletes at Villanova.

75 is the Magic Number
Over the past five seasons under head coach Steve Lappas, the Wildcats are 72-12 (.857) in games where they have scored 75 points or better. In 1996-97, the Wildcats were 15-3 when hitting a score of 75. Last year, Villanova was 16-1 when producing 75+ points. During the 1994-95 season, they tallied a 19-1 record in such games, while they were 13-4 in 1993-94 and 8-3 in 1992-93.

1997-98 Big East Conference Predictions
Syracuse and Connecticut are the choices of the Big East Conference head coaches to win the 1997-98 division titles. Syracuse is picked to win the Big East 7 Division, receiving 10 first-place votes and 81 points. Connecticut garnered nine first-place votes and 69 points to earn the Big East 6 champion, narrowly edging St. John's with 63 points and four first-place votes. Following is the results of the tally:

1997-98 coaches' preseason poll
Big East 7              Big East 6
Syracuse (10)   81      Connecticut (9) 69
Georgetown (2)  66      St. John's (4)  63
Miami (1)       65      West Virginia   46
Pittsburgh      44      Villanova       40
Providence      39      Notre Dame      32
Rutgers         30      Boston College  18
Seton Hall      30

New Faces
Each of the past two seasons, Steve Lappas has lost his top assistant to another school. In 1996, John Leonard departed from the Main Line to accept the head coaching position at Manhattan College, his alma mater. This spring, Paul Hewitt took over the reigns of the program at Siena College With the vacancy on the staff this year, Lappas hired Joe Jones away from Hofstra University. In addition, Peter Zaharis was promoted to assistant coach from his administrative assistant position when Jimmy Salmon departed. The constant through all these changes has been assistant Steve Pinone, a 1987 Villanova graduate and member of the 1985 NCAA Champion squad. Pinone has been with Lappas since 1991, joining him while he was at Manhattan College.

Turning it Around
Villanova head coach Steve Lappas has made winning the norm on the Main Line during the last four years, as the Wildcats compiled 95 wins during that time and won the NIT Championship, the Big East Tournament title, the Big East regular-season crown, set a school record for wins in a single season, and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament each of the last three seasons. Prior to his arrival on campus, Villanova had not recorded a 20-win season since the 1987-88 campaign when Rollie Massimino's squad finished 24-13 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Final Eight.

The Last Four Years Under Lappas
1993-94 20-12 overall
1994-95 25-8 overall
1995-96 26-7 overall
1996-97 24-10 overall