DIBIASE: Recent success has ‘Cats ready for March

Justin Dibiase

Go right ahead. Pick them to finish 10th; they dare you. Don’t worry about going to any of their games. Don’t even bother learning any of their names. Go cheer for the team with the Y chromosome. When there is a tight ballgame, count them out. Tell them they will never beat a ranked opponent. This team will never amount to anything, right?


Somewhere in between the men’s postgame salute to ‘Nova Nation and the bricklayers showcase during intramural basketball, something special happens on the floor of the Pavilion. No, not T-Pain. No, not Hardball with John McCain.

It’s the women’s basketball team. Surprised? You should be. The team combined for only 25 wins in the past two seasons. But then again, with their group of seniors and coaches, maybe we should have seen this coming.

The Wildcats started slow, winning three of their first seven games. The team was headed to another mediocre regular season and a run at women’s basketball’s annual consolation prize, the WNIT.

Then, something arrived at their doorstep, challenging them. It was the Big East Conference. The ‘Cats have scratched, clawed and willed their way to the top of the Big East. On its way to the top, the team took care of five teams that were ranked higher than their preseason No. 10 ranking in the conference. They handled the No. 14 team in the country, Notre Dame, with clutch free throws and heady late-game play. They have pulled out five gutsy wins of three points or less. They have built the best defense in terms of scoring in the conference. They have the highest free-throw percentage in the league at 78 percent, and they have done it all without the toot of a horn or pomp of any sort; all the while drawing the league’s third lowest attendance.

So how are the ‘Cats doing it? Simple, the same way the men are, with their seniors.

The Wildcat offense lives and dies with number three, senior forward Laura Kurz. The sharpshooting senior is averaging 18 points and over seven rebounds per contest. Those numbers, along with her team’s surprising emergence, has her name being thrown around in Player-of-the-Year chatter.

Despite only making one start on the season, no one has more impact on a game coming off the bench than senior guard Siobhan O’Connor. O’ Connor is third on the team with 8.5 points per contest. Her most impressive stat is her team-leading 64 assists and team-low 23 turnovers among players on the floor for over 10 minutes per game.

How can any talk of Villanova’s success not mention senior forward Lisa Karcic? Karcic has struggled offensively after solid sophomore and junior campaigns. Despite her offensive woes, her defensive presence cannot be denied. Karcic leads the Wildcats in steals and is second in rebounding. More importantly, she is usually matched up with the opponent’s best scorer, a role which she relishes.

Guard Maria Getty may be listed as a junior, but the maturity and court smarts that she brings to the game cannot be attributed to anything other than her senior-style leadership. Getty is second on the team in scoring at 8.6 points per game. Somewhere in between leading the Wildcats to this pleasantly surprising season and completing her finance degree in the School of Business, Getty has achieved a 3.75 GPA, an admirable accomplishment for any student.

This senior-laden team has beaten teams not only physically but also mentally, an important facet of a winning team taught to them by Head Coach Harry Perretta. Perretta is being considered for Big East Coach of the Year after taking a young team in ’07, which only mustered eight wins and improving them to the point they are at now. Perretta may not wear the fanciest suits or garner the most press, but his presence as an all-time Villanova great head coach cannot be denied. Coaching in his 31st season, he has won 570 games, more than any other Villanova basketball head coach.

The Villanova run of excellence began Jan. 17 when the Wildcats hung tough and gritted out a 54-52 victory over the Mountaineers of West Virginia. The win would be the template of many victories that were ahead of them. After two ties and five lead changes in the final 6:11, two clutch Kurz free throws put the ‘Cats up by two. The team closed out the win with their signature defense as Getty stole the ball away from West Virginia on its last possession. The win gave confidence to the team and sent a message to the rest of the Big East Conference.

Winners of eight straight conference games entering another Big East battle with Pittsburgh Wednesday, the Wildcats are playing their best basketball in recent memory, and they are getting it done the right way, on the defensive end. It may be hard to believe, but these Wildcats still have plenty of room to improve. The team is being outrebounded by 2.5 boards per game and is turning the ball over more frequently than their opponents.

Overall, the team sits at fourth place in the Big East and are in the best position ending a season since ’03-’04 when the team ended its Big East campaign with a seven-game winning streak.

So go ahead. Count them out because come Selection Monday, they will be counted in.