Nov. 24, 2000
On a night when the nation's No. 2 ranked club was on its home floor poised to celebrate a milepost in the career of its head coach, Villanova offered a solid account of itself.
Take it from the man whom the 9,314 came to cheer.
"We beat an outstanding basketball team tonight," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in the wake of the Blue Devils' 98-85 triumph over the Wildcats on Nov. 17. "Every time we thought we were ready to deliver a knockout punch, they rallied."
Villanova stood toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils for most of the first half. A 3-point shot that Jason Williams banked in from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded for intermission was a tough blow. It extended Duke's lead to 11 points, 51-40, for the first time all night.
Each team had five players reach double figures in scoring. Villanova connected on .621 of its attempts from the floor, the most accurate shooting against Duke since North Carolina made 66 percent of its attempts on Feb. 5, 1998.
Still, Wildcat head coach Steve Lappas said his club wasn't in Durham in search of moral victories.
"There's no doubt, I saw some things that encourage me," Lappas said. "We didn't lose because we backed away or were intimidated. We lost because they played better and we turned the ball over.
"Still, we came here to win and are disappointed we didn't do that.
"You cannot play in a tougher place than Duke. And their defense is better at home, and it is always more intense.
"They are a great, great team. What more can I say than that? But at the same time, I felt we were in the game until the very end."
Mike's Made a Difference
It was quite a first week for center Michael Bradley as he debuted in the Wildcats lineup. After opening his Villanova playing career with 22 points and 10 rebounds in the 101-85 win over Fairfield on Nov. 14, Bradley came through with an astonishing 28-point, nine-rebound six assist effort at Duke.
In recognition of that work, Bradley was named the Big East Conference Player of the Week. It is the first time a Wildcat has been selected for that honor since the 1996-97 season.
"Mike's been terrific, no question," said head coach Steve Lappas. "I knew from watching him in practice last year that we had something special here. Now I think other people are getting a chance to see that."
Bradley has converted 22-of-28 from the field (.786) in two games and totaled 50 points. He also has seven assists (3.5 apg), six blocks (3.0 bpg) and 18 rebounds (9.0 rpg).
"Mike is such a good passer," noted freshman point guard Derrick Snowden. "You always have to be ready because he can find you at any time."
Valuing the Basketball
You can be certain those words have been spoken off by the Villanova coaching staff in the wake of the defeat at Duke. The Wildcats committed 29 turnovers against the Blue Devils, tying last year's season high (against Providence on Jan. 20) and falling only two short of the school record.
"The turnovers have hurt us," said Lappas.
Duke devoted much of its energy to stifling the Villanova perimeter. The Blue Devils created 42 points off Wildcat turnovers.
"We wanted to take (Gary) Buchanan and (Jermaine) Medley out of the game," said Krzyzewski. "We know how dangerous they can be. I thought they did a good job of driving the ball to the basket, which is what good basketball players do."
Villanova's point guards, Medley and freshman Derrick Snowden, ended the night with a total of 13 turnovers.
"You have to understand," Lappas stated. "I am always going to be worried about something. Right now, the turnovers are what I am worried about. But I also think you have to keep in mind that Duke is always one of the best defensive teams in the country."
While Villanova's perimeter players had their hands full, the athletes near the basket prospered.
We already have discussed the work of Bradley. But the rest of the Wildcats' frontline was effective too.
"Their interior passing was terrific," noted Krzyzewski.
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.
This marks Villanova's first game in 2000-2001 following a defeat.
His work has been largely lost in the shadow of Bradley's heroics but forward Brooks Sales has stepped up his game in the opening week of the 2000-2001 campaign.
The junior from Bloomfield, Conn., has converted 10-of-14 field goal attempts (.714) and is six-of-eight (.750) from the free throw stripe. He is averaging 13.0 points and 5.0 rebounds while generally facing the opposition's top interior offensive threat.
Sales has added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame in the offseason and now checks in at 245 pounds. In addition, he has displayed more range on his faceup jumper and appears to complement Bradley's passsing skills well.
Sophomore forward Ricky Wright was one of the few Wildcats who did not display his offensive skills in the opening night contest against Fairfield.
That changed at Duke.
Wright converted all five of his field goal attempts and contributed 17 strong minutes off the bench. In addition he added two rebounds and one steal.
Wright is often the first substitute to hear his name called by Lappas but he isn't the only alternative. Villanova utilized its entire roster in the win over Fairfield and nine athletes saw action in the battle at Duke.
"They're a deep team," noted Krzyzewski. "I like Villanova's game. I think they're good.
"We were kind of surprised to be facing Villanova in the second round of the NIT. I thought Villanova was as good as anybody in the NIT.
"To get this 500th win against a program the stature of Villanova is very meaningful."
One of the keys to the Wildcats' solid play in the early going has been the work on the backboards.
In its first two outings, Villanova has outrebounded the opposition by an average of 34.0 to 28.0. On Nov. 17, the `Cats outrebounded the Blue Devils 31-23.
Last year Villanova was 10th in the Big East in defensive rebounding but that hasn't been a problem so far. The `Cats controlled the defensive glass at Duke, collecting 20 defensive caroms to 13 for the Devils.
A figure to keep in mind as you watch tonight's game unfold is 75.
Under Steve Lappas, the Wildcats are 100-19 (.840) 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.
The Duke loss leaves Villanova with a 1-1 mark in such outings this year.