Nov. 16, 2000
During the eight years and one game that have comprised the Steve Lappas era, Villanova has frequently featured a high-powered offense. It has annually been among the Big East's most prolific 3-point shooting and scoring clubs.
Yet even by those standards, Tuesday night's performance was exceptional.
The Cats were on target all night long. Villanova was 35-of-53 from the field. Its five starters all scored in double figures. That same group was a combined 31-of-42 (.738) from the floor.
It all added up to a 101-85 win over the Stags in a game where Villanova was ahead by as many as 26 points in the second half.
"I thought for the first time with these guys playing together they did a pretty good job offensively, in the half court set especially," said Lappas. "We had some problems with turnovers and that is something we have to take care of."
The win was Villanova's eighth in nine tries under Lappas on opening night.
Mike Made His Mark
Anticipation can sometimes lead to anticlimax.
But not for the highly touted Michael Bradley, who offered an opening night effort that caused no one in attendance to doubt some of the advance billing that announced the playing debut of Bradley, who transferred to the Main Line following the 1998-99 school year from Kentucky.
"Mike Bradley is a heck of a player," said Fairfield coach Tim O'Toole. "Every time he got the ball he did something positive. He played like an All-American, which he may well be. He was dominating. Not a lot of guys dominate games, not like that. I don't care what level you are at. He was phenomenal."
In the preseason Bradley became the first player since Delray Brooks in 1986 to be voted to a Big East all-league team without ever having played a game in the conference. The Worcester, Mass., native was selected as an all-Big East second team choice.
Against Fairfield - the alma mater of his father, David, who attended the contest on Tuesday night - Bradley was a force. He scored 22 points on 10-of-12 (.833) shooting from the field, grabbed 10 rebounds and also blocked five shots. Another potential block was ruled to be goaltending by the officials.
"It felt good to be out there in a real game situation," Bradley stated following the contest. "There are a lot of things I still have to improve on. I felt like I was a step or two slower the whole night. I didn't rebound like I could have. My post defense needs some work. Maybe it just takes one game to get the rust off."
In his Villanova debut, Bradley eclipsed his career highs in scoring, blocks and rebounding. His previous best scoring night came while at Kentucky against Miami when he dropped in 19 points. His previous top rebounding effort was nine against Indiana. And his top night in the blocked shots category prior to coming to Villanova was three against Georgia on Feb. 17, 1999.
"I know that there is room for improvement in his game," said Lappas. "But I was happy with his debut and I know there is better to come."
Good But Not Quite Great
As well as the Wildcats shot the basketball on Tuesday night, the .660 percentage fell far short of a school record.
That mark belongs to the 1985 Wildcats who converted 22-of-28 shots from the field (.786) as they defeated Georgetown 66-64 in one of the most memorable NCAA finals in history.
Perhaps the least touted of Villanova's current starting five is sophomore Aaron Matthews.
That may change if he can continue to play as he did on opening night.
Matthews established new career highs in points (19) and assists (six). Tuesday also marked the first career start for the native of Seaford, Del., who came off the bench throughout his rookie season of 1999-2000.
"Aaron did a great job for us," Lappas said.
Matthews converted seven of his nine field goal attempts and also collected four rebounds in 27 minutes. On defense, Matthews spent time at the front of Villanova's press, which he enjoyed.
"I like getting easy baskets," Matthews said, "and that's a way to get easy baskets."
To see how far Matthews has advanced from the same point last year, consider that he scored just 15 points in Villanova's first 11 games last year. In the 12th game he established his freshman season high of 16 points and from there went on to become an integral part of the `Cats playing rotation.
Trends To Watch
While the 20-13 Wildcats endured disappointment last March on Selection Sunday when they became only the third team in Big East history not to be selected for the field of 64 with 19 wins, there is something they hope carries over.
In 1999-2000, Villanova was 11-1 following a loss (.917).
Only once all season did the squad lose back-to-back games: at Rutgers and at Pittsburgh in late January.
His wasn't the most notable line on the boxscore but the contribution of senior point guard Jermaine Medley to the success on Tuesday night should not be undersold.
The 6-0 product of Wilmington, Del., produced 11 points, including 4-of-5 shooting from the floor. He converted three of his first four 3-point field goal attempts.
In 1999-2000 Medley was a catalyst in a revival that saw the Wildcats surge down the stretch. He averaged 11.4 ppg over the last 14 games of his junior year and capped the year with the Philadelphia Big Five's Most Improved Award.
One noteworthy stat where Medley is concerned: over the last three seasons the Wildcats are 14-6 in games he has started at the point guard position.
"I thought Jermaine did a good job for us," Lappas said in the wake of the triumph over Fairfield.
He hit the first two shots of the game, mid-range jumpers that might have been beyond his reach in his first two seasons. But junior forward Brooks Sales has grown, literally and figuratively in the time since.
Sales added 20 pounds to his frame this past offseason through a strong weightlifting program. In addition, he spent hours enhancing his mid-range jumper.
In the victory over Fairfield the native of Bloomfield, Conn., scored 16 points, just one away from his career high. He also collected four rebounds and handed out four assists.
Sales' work is not limited to the offensive end. During the first two seasons of his college career he gained a reputation as one of the Big East's better interior defenders. He has fared very well in two meetings with Notre Dame's Troy Murphy. Last season he helped hold the 6-10 Notre Dame national player of the year candidate to a season-low 14-point win an 86-69 Villanova win in February.
Those skills will be put to a major test here as he will be a major component as Villanova copes with All-American Shane Battier and standout big man Carlos Boozer.
Turnover Tale It was a concern during much of the 1999-2000 and in the encounter with Fairfield it crooped again: turnovers.
Villanova coughed the ball up 25 times and that's territory which frequently lands a club in trouble.
"We scored 101 points and had 25 turnovers," Lappas noted. "I don't know how we did that. It's almost impossible to do."
Of course, Villanova has won with more turnovers. In fact, last Jan. 20, the Wildcats defeated Providence at the Civic Center 66-57 despite turning the ball over 29 times.
A figure to keep in mind as you watch tonight's game unfold is 75.
Under Steve Lappas, the Wildcats are 100-18 (.847) when they score 75 points or more in a game. Last year, Villanova was 8-1 in such contests, including 4-0 in the month of February as the club made its charge toward the postseason. The Fairfield win was the 100th time in Lappas' tenure that Villanova has won when it has scored more than 75 points.
Bright Lights Tonight's contest is being broadcast nationally by ESPN. Villanova is no stranger to national television, having made 127 such appearances over the past five years.
The Wildcats are assured of making at least nine appearances on national networks and could add to that total depending upon the outcome of this evening's game.