Feb. 9, 2001
The last few weeks have provided the Villanova Wildcats with more than their share of adversity.
A pulled abdominal muscle has sidelined standout freshman Reggie Bryant since early January.
Brooks Sales underwent surgery to repair a fractured right hand on Jan. 31.
On Tuesday night, though, the Wildcats found reasons to smile.
With a convincing 80-51 victory over the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova claimed the Philadelphia Big Five championship. This is the first time since the 1984-85 season that the Wildcats have completed a 4-0 run through La Salle, St. Joseph's, Pennsylvania and Temple. It is only the fourth time it has happened since the series began in the mid-1950s.
"It's a nice accomplishment for our kids," said head coach Steve Lappas.
Villanova took control of the game early behind the 3-point shooting of Jermaine Medley. The Wildcats built a 21-10 advantage eight minutes into the contest. At halftime the Wildcats led 40-26 and they were never really threatened in the second half.
"It's been a bit of a struggle lately, which has been well-documented," Lappas said. "We got a special win tonight. It wasn't just a win. I told these kids before the game that there have been some tremendous teams in the Big Five and some tremendous teams in Villanova history over the last 45 years, and to be only the fourth team in Villanova history to do it is an honor and a privilege."
In the end Tuesday's outcome probably will pale alongside an event that took place late in the second half.
Indeed, Gary Buchanan provided the only drama of the second half. With 4:46 left and the Wildcats holding a comfortable working margin, Buchanan was fouled by Penn's Jeff Schiffner. The Quakers were in the bonus which meant that Buchanan was headed to the free throw line to attempt to advance his streak of 63 consecutive made free throws.
Buchanan stepped to the line, bounced the ball three times and swished the first. He then drained the second and the record held by Joe Dykstra of Western Illinois for 19 years now belongs to Buchanan.
"I was a little nervous," Buchanan admitted later. "I didn't want to let anyone down."
No Division I player in history has made more free throws in succession than Buchanan.
"It's pretty remarkable," said Penn coach Fran Dunphy. "It's not like those were clangers. They went dead in the hoop, which was really impressive.
"When he made the first one and everybody went crazy, I'm saying, `Tying, that's not good enough for me. I want him to make it and finish it and break this record.' I think that's great ... I'll remember it, I really will. It's a great accomplishment. It's pretty remarkable when you think about it."
Paul Cluxton is recognized as the NCAA consecutive free throw champion. As a senior at Division II Northern Kentucky in 1996-97 he drained all 94 of his free throw attempts.
This year Buchanan is 73-74 (.986) at the free throw line, his only miss coming in a game at Duke on Nov. 17.
"I have never had an entire team during a game agree that we have to get the ball to one player but this team does that with Gary," said Lappas.
The highest free throw percentage for a season in Division I was recorded by Penn State's Craig Collins in 1984-85 (94-of-98, .959).
Buchanan is 142-of-148 (.959) at the line in his career. Buchanan currently leads the NCAA at .986. Teammate Michael Bradley is atop the NCAA field goal percentage chart and no squad in history has ever had two players from the same team end the year atop the leaderboard in two seperate categories.
Masterpiece in the Paint
The Michael Bradley Show again played to boffo reviews on Tuesday night.
Bradley scored 21 points and collected nine rebounds in the 80-51 victory over the University of Pennsylvania.
It marked the 17th time in Villanova's 21 games that the native of Worcester, Mass., has scored 20 or more points in a contest. Bradley averages 22.4 ppg.
To date, the transfer from the University of Kentucky has accumulated 471 points and taken just 265 shots. His field goal percentage (.698) is a shade under 70 percent for the season.
To put that into perspective: Bradley could miss his next 20 field goal attempts and still be on pace to shatter the Villanova record for field goal percentage in a season (.640) held by Ed Pinckney.
In his third active season of college basketball, Bradley now has a total of 913 career points.
The junior leads VU in minutes played (726-34.6 mpg), field goal percentage, rebounding (203-9.7 rpg), blocks (37-1.76 bpg), and, of course, scoring.
Defensive Upgrade The Wildcats' effort at the defensive end of the floor was one of their best of the 2000-2001 campaign.
Villanova held Penn to 51 points, the lowest point total of any Wildcat opponent all season. Pennsylvania connected on just .351 of its attempts from the field and hit on .280 of its attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
Most important, Villanova held a 28-14 edge in points off turnovers.
Medley Comes Alive
It is no coincidence that when Jermaine Medley is on an offensive roll, the Wildcats' offense is too.
The senior from Wilmington, Del., posted a new career high with 22 points on Tuesday night against Pennsylvania. He enjoyed his best shooting night of the campaign, making 7-of-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Medley raised his season scoring average to 10.9 ppg and moved ahead of injured teammate Brooks Sales on the team scoring list.
Wright, who has shined in his role as sixth man for the Wildcats in his two seasons on the Main Line, made the second start of the season and fifth of his college career on Tuesday. The native of East Chicago, Ind., collected a career-high 13 rebounds and added 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field.
With a .567 percentage from the field, Wright is one of four Wildcat regulars shooting .539 or better from the field.
"I thought Rick did a great job on the glass for us tonight," said Lappas.