Jan. 26, 2001
If you had told Villanova head coach Steve Lappas prior to the start of Wednesday night's important Big East battle with Connecticut that his team would end the night shooting .351 percent from the field, no doubt there would have been a sigh.
"I would have thought it would be tough to win with us shooting like that," Lappas said.
Alas, Villanova scratched its way to a 70-59 triumph on the strength of its defense.
It did so despite shooting its worst percentage from the field all season. Its 20 field goals were its lowest output of the campaign. The previous low for field goal percentage was .420, accomplished at Georgia and against Temple.
"We finally played the kind of defense we needed to," said sophomore guard Gary Buchanan.
In the game's early moments, Villanova fell into a familiar pattern. Turnovers resulted in fastbreak baskets for the Huskies. By the first media timeout, Connecticut held a 13-7 lead.
Over the next 33 minutes, however, the Huskies scored just 35 points. A few late baskets and free throws in the last two minutes as the Wildcats sought to avoid contact brought the final score to 70-59.
"I told the guys let's just think about the scoreboard," Lappas said. "If you think about the scoreboard, you play every play."
Villanova did that and came away with its first win at Connecticut in five years and first at the Hartford Civic Center since Dec. 12, 1989.
"I thought that Villanova came in here and handled us in every way possible, physically, mentally and emotionally," said Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun. "They came into our building and outworked us in every phase of the game."
Masterpiece in the Paint
It was another night of crisp moves, muscle and smooth touch for Michael Bradley in his first collegiate game ever in his native New England on Wednesday evening.
Bradley picked up 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor and grabbed 15 rebounds. It was his seventh double-double of the campaign and the 13th time in 17 starts at Villanova that Bradley has scored 20 or more points in a game.
How important was the product of Worcester Burncoat High School to the Wildcats on Wednesday?
Bradley connected on 80 percent of his attempts from the field. The rest of the `Cats were 12-of-47 from the field (.256) on the night. Bradley only missed one two point field goal attempt on the night and his points per shots attempt remains among the nation's best.
His .694 field goal percentage is tops in the Big East Conference and he is second in the league scoring race to Troy Murphy of Notre Dame.
Halftime Leads Are Key
In its last Pavilion appearance Villanova rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to defeat Virginia Tech 86-74 on Jan. 17. But the numbers suggest that falling behind today could be trouble.
Boston College is 13-0 when leading at halftime.
Villanova, meanwhile, is 9-1 when holding the advantage at intermission.
Thanks in part to his performance on Wednesday evening in his hometown, junior forward Brooks Sales can look forward to being able to get his hair cut next summer.
"I always had to hear about losing to UConn when I went in there these last two summers," said Sales, a native of Bloomfield, Conn., just up the road from the Hartford Civic Center.
Sales' diving grab for a loose ball in the second half typified Villanova's effort on the night. Sales beat Connecticut's Edmund Saunders to a loose ball and signalled for a timeout. Lappas called it one of the game's biggest plays.
Sales was instrumental down the stretch too. He nailed eight free throws in crunch time and was 10-of-11 at the line (.909) to help the Wildcats secure the win.
On the year Sales is converting .786 of his attempts from the line and sports a field goal percentage of .606. He is third on the team in scoring (10.6 ppg) and has reached double figures in the points columns 13 times this year.
Plus, he is Villanova's top interior defender and is usually assigned to the opponent's most dangerous weapon inside.
Turnovers haven't been the only vexing element for Villanova of late. Its old friend, the 3-point ball, hasn't been nearly as generous as it was earlier in the season.
In its last five games dating back to the Jan. 9 contest against Providence at the Pavilion, Villanova is just 21-of-83 (.253) from beyond the 3-point arc. It was 2-of-18 (.111) in the win at Connecticut.
"I thought both Gary (Buchanan) and Jermaine (Medley) had some great looks in the second half," said Lappas. "They just didn't go down."
As a team, Villanova is shooting .284 from beyond the arc in Big East play.
Another factor in the Villanova triple slide has been the absence of freshman guard Reggie Bryant. Bryant made some huge 3-point field goals in wins at St. Joseph's and La Salle in December before being felled by a pulled abdominal muscle following the Georgia game on Dec. 28.
Spirit of St. Louis
Gary Buchanan continues to keep the media relations research bureau on its toes with his free throw proficiency.
With his 10-for-10 performance at the line on Wednesday, Buchanan shattered his own school record for consecutive free throws (45). He now has converted 53 in a row, dating to a miss on Nov. 17 at Duke.
For the year Buchanan is 61-of-62 (.984) at the free throw line. In his college career the 6-4 native of St. Louis is 130-of-136 (.956) at the line.
In addition to his current overall streak, Buchanan has also made 27 consecutive free throws in Big East games. Austin Croshere of Providence holds the record of 47.
On the horizon for Buchanan is the NCAA Division I record of 64 straight free throws, held by Joe Dykstra of Western Illinois (1981). The overall collegiate mark set by Paul Cluxton of Northern Kentucky is 94 in a row.
Training Room Update
After being excused from the trip to Connecticut to attend to personal matters, Johnny Holley is due back in uniform for this afternoon's contest.
Sophomore forward Andrew Sullivan returned to the lineup and played 10 minutes after missing the previous two games with a sprained left knee injured in practice on Jan. 15.
Reggie Bryant, meanwhile, is doubtful for today's action. A pulled abdominal muscle continues to plague him.
For the first time in 2000-2001, Villanova held an opponent under 60 points in the game against Connecticut.
In addition, the Huskies shooting percentage of .339 was the lowest output of any opponent this year.
The defense will be tested today by a Boston College offense that has scored 70 or more points in every game it has played this year.
75 is Significant
The ledger shows that when Villanova has reached 75 points in the last nine years, its odds of success are great.
Under Steve Lappas, the Wildcats are 108-20 (.844) when they score 75 points or more in a game. Last year, Villanova was 8-1 in such contests and is now 9-2 (.818) in that department this season.
When Villanova doesn't reach the 75-point plateau it is 3-3 (.500), including its last two losses.
White To Be Honored
The Wildcats today honor former All-American Hubie White at halftime.
White is one of only four Wildcats to average 20 ppg in successive seasons. In three varsity seasons, the 6-3 native of Philadelphia never averaged less than 19.6 ppg.
As a senior he was named to the All-American team. That year he captained the first of coach Jack Kraft's teams to reach the NCAA Tournament.White ranks thirteenth on Villanova's all-time scoring list with 1,608 points, an average of 20.6 ppg.