Dec. 1, 2000
Villanova, Pa. - Prior to its brief exhibition interlude on Tuesday evening - the Wildcats downed Alaska Fairbanks 97-70 at the Pavilion - Villanova took care of Towson University last Sunday night.
Villanova relied heavily on its interior in the contest as Michael Bradley scored 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the floor while junior Brooks Sales established a new career high with 21 points. In addition, the native of Bloomfield, Conn., came up with nine rebounds to lead the charge.
"They're going to be a team to be reckoned with, certainly in the Big East," said Mike Jaskulski, head coach at Towson and formerly an assistant coach to Leonard Hamilton at the University of Miami.
Villanova head coach Steve Lappas pointed to the teamwork between Sales and Bradley.
"They really help one another," said Lappas. "They pass the ball well and are both capable of stepping away from the basket and feeding the other guy posting up inside."
Villanova improved to 2-1 with the win.
The anticipation regarding his debut was palpable. Yet the dawn to Michael Bradley's Villanova career has been more than even the most optimistic Wildcat follower could have hoped for.
The product of Worcester, Mass., has been a major force, on the interior and, outside as well.
"When you let Bradley put it down, his footwork is so good, he's like a Kevin McHale," said Towson's Jaskulski following a 25-point, eight rebound Bradley effort on Sunday evening. "He's going to create scoring opportunities for himself."
Lappas isn't quite ready to invoke stored names like McHale's just yet. But he is clearly pleased with the early work of his new big man.
"Mike has been tremendous," said Lappas, "and he has helped our other big men."
For his part, Bradley is just happy to be on the floor again on game night, after sitting out the 1999-2000 campaign as a transfer from the University of Kentucky.
"It's good to be back out there again," he said. "My teammates are great to play with. They are just finding me. All I have to do is just dunk it or lay it in. If I can't finish off those, then there is a problem. It's been great."
Experience has benefitted Bradley as well.
"You have to remember," Lappas stated, "he is a junior now with a lot of basketball under his belt. That kind of thing really helps a player."
Valuing the Basketball
The coaching staff focused on defense and reducing turnovers and Lappas believes progress has been made of late.
"Our turnovers were down to 15 against Towson and we didn't have many of those ones which lead to uncontested baskets, which really hurt us in our first two games," Lappas said. "We also did a pretty good job of taking care of the ball in the exhibition game.
"We're still young. We have eight freshmen and sophomores on the roster and as we go along they will develop a better feel for what it takes at this level."
Villanova's passing has been lauded by opposing coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, Tim O'Toole and Jaskulski.
For good reason: the Wildcats have been credited with more than 20 assists in each of their first three contests. Against Alaska Fairbanks the team recorded 30 assists.
"That," said Lappas, "is always a good sign."
A year ago the Wildcats picked up 48 assists in their first three games. This year they already have 67.
Not coincidentally, point production is up markedly from this point in the `99-00 season. The Wildcats are averaging 91.0 ppg through three games after averaging 62.3 in their first three last year.
Alas, Villanova is also surrendering 86.0 ppg. A year ago it was allowing just 57. 6 ppg.
Trends To Watch
Villanova kept one major trend alive with its win over Towson. It moved to 1-0 following a defeat (the `Cats dropped a 98-85 decision at Duke on Nov. 17).
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.
Sales Record There has been remarkable consistency where Brooks Sales is concerned this year. The forward has reached double figures in scoring in each of Villanova's three outings and stands third on the team in scoring with a 15.7 ppg average. His 6.3 rpg trail only Bradley in that category.
"Brooks has really done a nice job," Lappas said.
In fact, Jaskulski favorably compared the duo of Sales and Bradley to an earlier tandem in the Lappas era.
"They are the best interior tandem Villanova has had since (Jason) Lawson and (Chuck) Kornegay were here," said the Towson coach.
"This is, probably, the best inside game we've had," Lappas stated. "Offensively, it certainly is. We're deeper now.
"Together, they've really been a force. Now we have some things going that we've never had going before.
"Of course, Jason and Chuck were great at the defensive end. I'd take any of these four guys on my team."
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.
A figure to keep in mind as you watch tonight's game unfold is 75.
Under Steve Lappas, the Wildcats are 101-19 (.842) 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.
Villanova is 2-1 in such outings this year.