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Dec. 21, 1997

Wildcats Battle Florida International

Series Notes: This will be the first meeting between the two schools.

The Coaches:

Villanova head coach Steve Lappas - 106-60 / 6 years at VU

FIU head coach Shakey Rodriguez - 34-31 / 3 years at FIU

Last Time Out for the Wildcats: The Wildcats defeated No. 16-ranked Temple, 68-57, behind a career-high 19 points from Howard Brown, 16 from John Celestand, and 12 from Marvin O'Connor. Villanova took the lead at the 10:56 mark of the first half, and never relinquished it, leading by as many as 14 in the game. Temple cut the lead to three, 49-46, at the 5:53 mark, but O'Connor hit back-to-back three-pointers to put the game away. Villanova forced the Owls into 30.2 percent shooting from the field and 20.7 shooting from behind the three-point arc, while shooting 42.0 percent in the game. The rebounding was even at 41 boards apiece.

Stepping Up Junior Howard Brown, the most consistent player for the Wildcats this season, stepped up his play a notch even higher versus Temple. The Pottstown, Pa., native, scored a career-high 19 points on six-for-11 (.545) shooting from the field, including a four-of-seven (.571) performance from three-point range. Brown led both teams in scoring and surpassed his previous high of 18 points scored last year versus St. Joseph's. Brown has posted double figures in five games this season and is averaging 11.7 ppg, the second-highest number on the team. He's shot better than 50 percent from the field four times, and 40 percent or better from behind the arc four times. In addition, Brown tied two career-highs versus Temple, for rebounds with nine, and three-pointers with four. Additionally, he led the team with blocked shots with a career-high three against the Owls.

O'Connor On Fire Freshman Marvin O'Connor has been shooting exceptionally well from the field over the last two games, recording back-to-back double-figure scoring outings versus New Orleans and Temple. The Philadelphia native has hit nine-of-16 (.563) from the floor in the pair of games and six-of-12 (.500) from behind the three-point arc, averaging 12.5 points per contest during that time. His back-to-back three-of-six shooting from three marks the most three pointers in a single game and also the best percentage of his career. O'Connor scored a career-high 13 points against New Orleans.

In the Clutch Marvin O'Connor, a Philadelphia native, grew up with the Big Five and understands the magnitude of city series games. The Simon Gratz product, playing against familiar opponents on the Temple Owl roster, made his presence felt in his first-ever Big Five contest. The rookie scored 12 points on four-for-eight shooting from the field and three-for-six shooting from behind the three-point arc, grabbed three rebounds and had two assists in the game. Most importantly, however, he hit back-to-back treys with five minutes remaining in the game to stifle a Temple comeback and put the Wildcats up for good. The Owls had chiseled a 14-point Villanova lead to three when O'Connor put the nail in the coffin.

bigus photo
Rafal Bigus.

Bigus Comes Up Big Junior center Rafal Bigus posted a season-high 10 rebounds versus Temple, the most boards for the native of Poland since he grabbed a career-high 15 against Penn on Dec. 10, 1996. The Temple game marked the third-straight contest that a Wildcat post player has registered double-figures on the glass, as Malik Allen posted 16 boards versus Duke and 10 against New Orleans.

Few and Far Between Under head coach Steve Lappas, Villanova owns a record of 20-2 (.909) versus non-Big East Conference foes in The Pavilion (1992-present). After losing to Florida, 85-77, on Dec. 22, 1993, the Wildcats won 14-straight non-league contests in the arena over a period of three-plus seasons before falling to New Orleans, 77-64, on Dec. 13, 1997. Villanova rebounded after the defeat to the Privateers with a 68-57 victory over Temple on Dec. 16, 1997.

Villanova Versus the Trans America Athletic Conference The Wildcats have only played one team from the Trans America Athletic Conference in history, facing Jacksonville on Dec. 27, 1983, and losing 67-63.

Home, Sweet, Home The Wildcats have recorded 34-straight sellouts in their on-campus arena, The Pavilion, and boast a record of 93-35 (.727) in the building since it opened in 1986. From the 1994-95 season on, Villanova is 31-3 (.912) in The Pavilion, including an 18-2 (.900) mark in Big East Conference match-ups.

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 45-18 (.714) 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 1-4 in 1997-98.

Coming Through Against the Owls' "D" Entering the game against Villanova, Temple was limiting opponents to only 33.2 percent shooting from the field. The Wildcats fared much better, converting 21-of-50 for a game percentage of 42.0, becoming only the second team all season to shoot better than 40 percent against the Owls' stifling defense.

Villanova (3-4) vs. Florida International (5-3)
Monday, Dec. 22, 1997
7:30 p.m. ~ The Pavilion

Probable Starters
No.    Pos.    Name                                PPG    RPG
#15    F       Malik Allen     (So., 6-10, 240)    9.0    8.6
#22    F       HOWARD BROWN    (Jr., 6-5, 200)    11.7    5.3
#31    C       Rafal Bigus     (Jr., 7-1, 270)     6.3    6.3
#13    G       John Celestand  (Jr., 6-3, 175)    13.4    4.3
#10    G       JERMAINE MEDLEY (Fr., 6-0, 185)     6.3    1.6

When the Wildcats Shoot ... Shooting has been the Wildcats' achilles heel this season, as Villanova has converted only 39.4 percent (165-419) from the field after seven games. In all three of their victories this season, the Wildcats hit for better than 40 percent from the floor (44.4 versus Georgetown; 46.4 versus Seton Hall; and 42.0 versus Temple). In contrast, each of their four losses had the Wildcats shooting below the 40-percent mark (38.2 versus Minnesota; 37.3 versus Bradley; 36.6 versus Duke; and 33.3 versus New Orleans).

Career Highs for Celestand, O'Connor Both John Celestand and Marvin O'Connor recorded career-best scoring performances versus New Orleans last Saturday night. Celestand posted 22 points on nine-of-23 shooting, surpassing his previous best of 19 points against Seton Hall this year and Georgetown during his freshman season. His nine field goals also were career-highs for the Piscataway, N.J., native. O'Connor, meanwhile, registered 13 points on five-for-eight shooting (.625), bettering his former career-high of 11 points set against Bradley this year. O'Connor's shooting performance was the best of his career from both the field and from three, as he hit three-for-six from behind the three-point arc.

allen photo
Malik Allen.

Allen Comes Through Sophomore Malik Allen put in one of the finest performances of his young career last Wednesday versus Duke. The Shawnee High School product posted game-high numbers in scoring and rebounding, registering a career-high 17 points and 16 rebounds. His 17 points came on seven-for-12 (.583) shooting from the field, personal-bests in field goals made, attempted and percentage. In addition, his 16 boards (eight offensive and eight defensive) is the most by a Wildcat since March 17, 1995, when Jason Lawson collected 17 against Old Dominion in the NCAA Tournament.

Lappas Versus Ranked Opponents Under head coach Steve Lappas, the Wildcats have recorded a mark of 17-16 (.515) against nationally-ranked teams, including a record of 13-9 (.590) over the past four years. This season, the Wildcats have split against nationally-ranked squads, defeating No. 16 Temple (68-57) on Dec. 16, 1997, and falling to No. 1Duke on Dec. 10 (L 94-66).