‘Cats claw Knights in Big East blowout



Jon Albert

Led by a balanced scoring attack, which saw 10 of their players record a basket, the Wildcats raced out to a quick 15-6 lead and never looked back. Freshman guard Dominic Cheek had a career high 17 points to lead the charge, while junior guards Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher had 16 and 15 points, respectively.The win, coupled with Pittsburgh’s 74-66 loss to Georgetown, left the Wildcats with a spotless 6-0 mark in conference play and sole possession of first place in the Big East conference. It is Villanova’s best start to conference play since the 1982-’83 season, where they also started 6-0.The game was tight for the first few minutes, but Villanova’s full court defense and skilled transition play gave the ‘Cats an early lead that they would never relinquish. After a Taylor King block led to a 3-pointer in transition from the sophomore forward, Cheek stole the inbounds pass and converted it into an easy layup.The key to the ‘Cats’ dominance was the first-half turnover battle. Before halftime, the ‘Cats committed just one turnover, while they forced the Scarlet Knights into nine of their own. Also key for the Wildcat defense was limiting Rutgers star guard Mike Rosario to three points on one of eight shooting. Rosario came into the game averaging 16 points per game. The Scarlet Knights also shot just 52 percent from the free-throw line.’Nova’s first-half run was anchored by its bench, which scored 23 of its 47 first-half points. In comparison, the Rutgers bench was held to just four points in the first half and 10 for the whole game. The Villanova bench scored 44 points on the night.The second half started off as more of the same for the Wildcats, as the team opened with a 12-2 run to build their lead to 59-27. However, the team continued its pattern of sloppy starts into the second half, committing seven early turnovers.The Scarlet Knights tried to claw away at the growing deficit, going on a 23-10 run midway through the second half. Rutgers freshman swingman Dane Miller had 13 straight Scarlet Knight points in that stretch, including two 3-point baskets. At one point, the Wildcats’ 32-point lead shrunk to just 17. Rutgers was paced by senior center Hamady N’diaye, the nation’s leader in blocked shots, as well as Miller, who matched his career high with 26 points.The ‘Cats then showed why they deserve to be ranked No. 4 in the country. After a Scottie Reynolds 3 and a Fisher layup, the Wildcats forced yet another turnover and turned it into two Reggie Redding free throws on the other end to build the lead back to 78-56.One source of encouragement for Jay Wright’s squad was the great performance by his freshmen players. Along with Cheek’s high-scoring attack, freshman forward Isaiah Armwood had a career-high nine points and five rebounds, and freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou had his best game since returning from his bout with Hepatitis B, notching career highs in both points (six) and rebounds (nine).The Wildcats dominated the Scarlet Knights without a productive night from Reynolds. After averaging 31.5 points per game over his last two contests, Reynolds only netted nine points and made only two of his seven shots.That total puts him at 1,953 and ninth place on the all-time list, trailing recent graduate Randy Foye by only 13 points.The blowout surely brought some relief for the Villanova upperclassmen, who remember all too well the shocking 80-68 loss that they suffered in that same building on Jan. 23, 2008. That win was Rutgers’ first Big East victory and one of only three for that season. This season’s Rutgers squad is still in search of its first conference win.The Wildcats will continue their road trip on Saturday in New York City, where they will take on the St. John’s Red Storm at Madison Square Garden. The game tips off at 12 p.m.