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1996-97 Highlights and Review

For most teams, a 14-14 overall record would stand for mediocrity. However, the 14-14 mark posted by the 1996-97 Wildcats is quite an accomplishment when you consider that of the 10 players who saw significant playing time, seven were freshmen and sophomores.

The most important aspect of last year's season lies in the fact that Villanova's young and talented players gained the necessary experience that they will need to become a top-notch Big East team. Of the 5,625 minutes logged by Wildcat players last year, 3,654 (64.9%) were recorded by freshmen and sophomores.

"This year's team will reflect how beneficial the 1996-97 season was for us. Even though we only had a .500 record last year, I believe we gained a lot of game experience for our younger players," said head coach Harry Perretta. "There is nothing more valuable than gaining game experience. I have seen a lot of very good players in practice who struggle in a game because it is a different atmosphere. It drove me crazy at times last year playing so many younger kids, but I think we will see some positive results in the future."

Villanova began last season in the DePaul Thanksgiving Tournament where they opened with a 51-41 first round win over Alcorn State behind sophomore Jenn Sliwa's 21 points. In the championship game, the Wildcats gave tournament host DePaul all they could handle before losing 66-61. Freshman Jenea Skeeters showed an early glimpse of her talent with 18 points on seven-for-nine shooting. For her efforts in the tournament, Sliwa earned All-Tournament distinction.

Following the DePaul Tournament, Big East play opened as the 'Cats traveled to Rutgers. In front of a hostile 1,178 people at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, Villanova played sensational defense to earn a 60-54 victory. Rutgers managed to shoot just 30.8% against the stingy Wildcat defense, while Villanova shot 50% from the field with Shanette Lee and Jenny Higgins each scoring 11 points.

Beginning with St. Joseph's, Villanova played three-straight games against Philadelphia Big 5 competition. Despite spectacular performances by Sliwa (16 points/ 12 rebounds) and Lee (12 points/ 12 assists), the Hawks proved to be tough as they downed Villanova 66-54. The Wildcats quickly rebounded with back-to-back home city series wins over Temple, 65-56, and LaSalle, 61-45.

Next came the annual Wildcat Christmas Classic that included Alaska-Anchorage, Fairfield, Kentucky and the host Wildcats. In the opening round, Villanova dominated Fairfield, 66-43, behind 21 points and nine rebounds from Sliwa. A battle of the Wildcats took place in the tournament final, as Villanova and Kentucky squared off in the championship. In a hard-fought battle, Kentucky outlasted Villanova, 63-54.

With the 1996 portion of the schedule over, Villanova entered 1997 with a 5-3 overall record, a 1-0 Big East mark and a 2-1 Philadelphia Big 5 record. The Wildcats kicked-off the new year with an 89-67 loss at Providence, despite 20 points from Sliwa and 17 from Skeeters. Villanova quickly rebounded with a 51-45 win against St. John's behind 20 points, including five three-pointers from Sliwa.

After a 68-46 loss at West Virginia, Villanova won its only overtime contest of the season by defeating Syracuse 74-68. Skeeters was the story of the game as she tallied her first career double-double with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Sliwa continued to put up big numbers with 20 points.

Following a 77-54 loss to nationally ranked Notre Dame, Coach Perretta and his squad finished Big 5 play with a 60-51 win at Pennsylvania to round out city series play with a 3-1 record. In the victory, junior Jenn Beisel was sensational with 14 points and 13 rebounds. The 3-1 mark was good enough for second place in Philadelphia Big 5 play.

Villanova played one of its finest games of the year against Georgetown as the Cats earned a 60-49 victory over the Hoyas. Sliwa came off the bench to tally a double-double with 16 points and 15 points and the Wildcat defense was tremendous holding Georgetown to 31.3% shooting.

In late January, Villanova played two of its worst games of the year as they suffered back-to back losses by lopsided scores, falling at home to Boston College, 60-41, and on the road to Seton Hall by a count of 70-52. The Wildcats got back on track with a 54-40 win over Pittsburgh as the Villanova pressure defense forced 36 Lady Panther turnovers. Beisel and Lee led the way with 16 and 13 points respectively.

The February portion of the schedule got underway with a 70-56 road loss at Miami. Villanova got its first victory of February with a 59-53 win over West Virginia, avenging an earlier season loss to the Mountaineers. The Wildcats made it two in a row by sweeping the series with Syracuse with a 72-60 victory at Syracuse. Higgins led the charge over the orangewomen with 17 points, including five field goals from behind the arc.

1996-97 Schedule   
  
Date    Opponent            W/L Score         
11/30   Alcorn State        W   51-41
12/1    at DePaul           L   61-66
12/4    at Rugters          W   60-54
12/8    at St Joesph's      L   54-66
12/12   Temple              W   65-66
12/21   LaSalle             W   61-45
12/29   Fairfield           W   66-43
12/30   Kentucky            L   54-63   
1/2     at Providence       L   67-89       
1/4     St. John's          W   51-45       
1/7     at West Virginia    L   46-68       
1/9     Syracuse            W   74-68       
1/12    Notre Dame          L   54-77       
1/14    at Pennsylvania     W   60-51       
1/19    Georgetown          W   60-49       
1/22    at Seton Hall       L   50-72       
1/25    Boston College      L   41-60       
1/29    Pittsburgh          W   54-40       
2/2     Miami               L   56-70       
2/6     West Virginia       W   59-53       
2/9     at Syracuse         W   72-60       
2/12    Rutgers             L   55-62       
2/16    at St. John's       W   64-51

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