Jan. 9, 2001
It was a tense afternoon for the Wildcats Saturday in the place that Michael Vick has helped make famous. Facing a Virginia Tech club making its Big East debut on its home floor before a national television audience, Villanova gained a hard-earned 85-83 overtime victory over the Hokies.
"Give Virginia Tech credit," said Villanova head coach Steve Lappas. "They shot the ball well and we didn't do the kind of job we need to do defensively, especially in the first half."
Virginia Tech carried the play in the first half, building a 41-36 advantage at intermission. The Wildcats trailed by as many as eight in the second half but rallied to build a 74-69 lead with 1:30 left. But five Tech points, including a Brian Chase triple with nine seconds left, knotted matters at 74.
A late triple by Carlos Dixon narrowed the final margin to 85-83.
When he entered the game early in the first half, Ricky Wright's team was behind and seemingly out of synch.
"I tried to come in and provide energy," said Wright. "I could see from the bench that they were really sending two people at Mike (Bradley) so I just tried to duck in and he found me."
By day's end Wright had delivered a career high 21 points along with seven rebounds. What's more, he accomplished all of it in 23 minutes of activity.
"Rick really gave us a lift," noted Lappas.
The sophomore forward was 9-of-11 (.818) from the free throw line. Both were career highs as well.
"Ricky isn't listed as one of our starters but in my mind that's what he is," said Lappas. "He gives us a tremendous lift off the bench."
As efficiently as one of those Saturday morning home improvement specialists, junior center Michael Bradley continues to produce quality work.
The junior from Worcester, Mass., was again a major force for the Wildcats in the 85-83 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Bradley led the Wildcats in scoring for the 11th time this season. Only against Temple, when Jermaine Medley's 18 points topped the team, has Bradley not been the Top cat in the scoring column.
In addition, Bradley has connected on less than 50 percent of his attempts from the field in a game this year only once - at Georgia, where he was 8-of-17 (.466) from the floor.
He was 8-of-15 from the field on Saturday, including a clutch shot in overtime that was a half-step from being a 3-point field goal (he has seven of those this year and hits .368 of his attempts from beyond the arc.)
"His shooting percentage is one of the incredible things I've seen because that is not a low-down percentage," Lappas said. "He shoots jumpers, he posts up. His shooting percentage is not layups."
For his part, Bradley is enjoying the motion offense employed by Lappas.
"We have a lot of options, so it's hard for teams to match up," Bradley said. "We run a motion offense, so that enables the big guys to go out high-low and shoot the ball from outside. That fits my style perfectly."
Craftsman have all the tools and Bradley has demonstrated his kit is as complete as any.
One game after enduring a difficult 16-of-30 night from the free throw line, Villanova responded in a big way. The Wildcats connected on 27-of-37 (.730) from the stripe, including 16-of-17 in the first half (.941).
"Our free throw shooting kept us in the game in the first half," said Lappas.
Villanova is led at the line by sophomore guard Gary Buchanan. On the season he is 35-of-36 at the line (.972), tops in the Big East. After missing his first free throw at Duke on Nov. 17, Buchanan has connected on his last 27 straight free throws.
Last season, Buchanan did not miss a free throw from between Dec. 15 and Feb. 23, a run of 45 straight that shattered the school record of 30.
Buchanan was named the Best Free Throw Shooter in America by The Sporting News and for good reason. In a season and a half here he has missed exactly six free throws - two vs. Penn State, one vs. Seton Hall, one vs. Pittsburgh, one vs. Delaware and his only 2000-01 miss vs. Duke. For his career he is 104-of-110 (.945) at the line.
Villanova can thank its interior trio of Bradley, Wright and Brooks Sales for its win over Virginia Tech.
That combination totaled 67 of Villanova's 85 points on Saturday: Bradley led the way with 24, Wright had 21, and Sales chipped in with 12 more.
That group also contributed 18 rebounds.
Sales scored 12 points for the fourth time this year. He has already reached double figures in points ten times this year. The junior from Bloomfield, Conn., achieved double figures 14 times as a sophomore in 1999-2000.
One of Sales' top performances of his sophomore campaign came at Providence. He scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in helping lift the Wildcats past the Friars at the Providence Civic Center for the first time since 1990.
The flip side to the interior trio was the struggles Villanova endured from the perimeter. Its starting guards, Buchanan and Medley combined to shoot just 7-of-24 from the field.
Defense is the Deal
Following the contest at Virginia Tech, head coach Steve Lappas focused on his team's defensive effort.
"We've got a lot to work on at the defensive end," Lappas stated.
The numbers underscore the point.
In exactly half its games this year-six- Villanova has allowed its opponents to score 75 or more points. In its five road games this year the Wildcats are allowing 83.8 ppg. In contrast it has allowed 68.1 ppg in its seven home games this year at the Pavilion.
At Virginia Tech, the Wildcats allowed the Hokies to shoot .518 from the field. Opponents are connecting on .528 of their attempts from the floor when Villanova plays away from the Pavilion.