Explorers Await the Cats
Dec. 14, 2000
It was an affair that fit snugly into the rich tapestry of history that has defined the Philadelphia Big Five in the Palestra.
In the end, Villanova held off St. Joseph's 78-75 on Monday evening.
"It was," said Wildcats head coach Steve Lappas, "pretty much your typical, tough Big Five game."
In the first half the Hawks built an advantage as large as eight points before settling for a 39-32 lead at the break.
"We hadn't played well in the first half but that was to St. Joe's credit," said Lappas. "We just hung in there."
The Hawks led 48-40 when the Wildcats received a huge lift from freshman guard Reggie Bryant. The rookie from Baltimore made a triple and before long the contest was tied at 57.
From there it was a duel of big plays and the Wildcats made a few more than the Hawks. Despite an off night, Jermaine Medley drained a clutch 3-pointer and made a steal that Michael Bradley followed for a dunk.
Villanova survived to post its fourth consecutive victory over the Hawks.
The Wildcats received six points in the ESPN/USA Today top 25 poll released on Monday and 24 points in the Associated Press poll.
In the past two years, Villanova has appeared in the "also receiving votes" category on numerous occasions. Its last official national ranking came at the end of the 1996-97 season.
The New York Post lists Villanova No. 19 in the nation in a poll it included in its Dec. 12 editions.
It was a small play yet in some respects it was foreshadowed last week by the words of Temple coach John Chaney.
"He's a good thinker," Chaney said. "He takes great shots. He's not taking bad shots. He's a well-disciplined player. The kid's a great player. He has good hands, too, great hands. He sees the floor extremely well so you can say he's a point-center."
Bradley's cerebral approach came in handy in the waning seconds on Monday night. When Marvin O'Connor's attempt to tie the game caromed out of the basket, Bradley swatted the ball to the other end of the floor. Villanova was awarded possession out of bounds after the scramble for it and Bryant's too free throws gave Villanova an insurmountable 78-73 lead.
"I couldn't get both of my hands on the ball," explained the native of Worcester, Mass. "I knew there were a few seconds left and I didn't have a shot at grabbing the ball, so I tipped it down the court."
"That," noted Lappas, "was a very smart play."
Bradley connected on 9-of-12 field goal attempts. Two of the misses were on 3-point field goal attempts. The junior saw his field goal percentage "dip" to .761. That figure is third in the nation.
As a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, Bradley established that school's record for field goal percentage accuracy (.658). For your information, the Villanova standard for field goal percentage is owned by Ed Pinckney (.604) for his efforts during the 1981-82 campaign.
Foul Line Proved Daunting
Villanova entered play on Monday evening connecting on nearly 80 percent of its free throw attempts.
However, that figure took a hit. The Cats' made 15-of-28 for a season low single game percentage of 54 percent.
It should be noted that Villanova buckled down when the contest mattered most. Gary Buchanan and Bryant each drained a pair of free throws with the issue still very much in doubt and under one minute remaining.
VU is now shooting .710 from the free throw line on the season.
Reggie Stepped Forward
With Buchanan struggling offensively - he ended the night with four points, his lowest output since a two point effort on Jan. 20, 2000 at Providence -Bryant came alive.
"Reggie made some big shots and really gave us a lift when we needed it," said Lappas.
Bryant is a native of Baltimore who spent the 1999-2000 season at St. Thomas More in Connecticut. He and Buchanan never played together in prep school but they both have provided offensive firepower to the Villanova attack.
The 24 minutes Bryant played were a career high.
Also chipping in was Bryant's fellow product of Baltimore, classmate Derrick Snowden. Snowden helped slow Jameer Nelson at the defensive end and also contributed a big basket in the second half.
"Both Derrick and Reggie made some important contributions," said Lappas.
Although Buchanan and Medley combined to shoot just 2-of-14 from the field, each made a huge play late. Medley drained a three and contributed a steal while Buchanan sank a pair of crucial free throws with 25 seconds on the clock and the Cats nursing a 74-73 edge.
Despite being limited to a mere three minutes of first half action due to foul trouble, Brooks Sales was a major force down the stretch for the Wildcats on Monday night.
"I usually don't like to hold someone out of the game for the entire half after he gets two fouls as quickly as Brooks did," said Lappas. "I like to get them back at some point, if only so they can feel like they're in the flow.
"Tonight, though, I felt it was important that Brooks be available throughout the second half and Ricky was doing a good job in his absence. And Brooks really responded with some big baskets in the second half."
After scoring only two first half points, Sales ended the night with an even dozen to go with four rebounds.
Sales has reached double figures in scoring in each of Villanova's six games to date this season. His previous best streak of scoring in double figures was three in a row, achieved last year.
Towson's Mike 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," he said.
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 103-19 (.844) when they score 75 points or more in a game. Last year, Villanova was 8-1 in such contests and improved to 4-1 in that category in 2000-01 with the 78-75 win over St. Joseph's on Monday.