Wildcats close out Spectrum with win

David Cassilo

In the final college basketball game ever played in the Wachovia Spectrum, the No. 21 Wildcats closed the building in style last night with 67-57 win over the No. 3 Pittsburgh Panthers. Led by 18 points for junior guard Reggie Redding, the ‘Cats recorded their first win over a ranked opponent in five games. The win brought Villanova’s record to 16-4 and 4-3 in the conference, while Pittsburgh fell to 18-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big East.

In the early stages of the game, Pittsburgh was able to get out in front as it started the game on a 5-0 run. However, sophomore forward DeJuan Blair’s foul trouble presented an obstacle for the Panthers.

Four minutes into the first half with Pittsburgh leading 7-2, Blair picked up his first foul and was forced to the bench. Pittsburgh was able to maintain its lead until he was returned two minutes later.

Part of the reason Pittsburgh was so successful while Blair was on the bench was the play of sophomore guard Brad Wanamaker. He came off to bench to score nine consecutive points for Pittsburgh during the first half.

It was not long though before Pittsburgh found itself in trouble, though, as Blair picked up his second foul with 8:35 remaining in the first half. Villanova was able to capitalize as it went on a 14-5 run to take its first lead on senior Dante Cunningham’s dunk with 3:39 remaining in the half.

Over the final four minutes of the half, the lead changed four times before Pittsburgh seized control and ended the half on a 6-0 run and took a 31-26 lead into halftime.

Although the Panthers had a halftime lead, foul trouble was a major concern as four Panthers, including Blair, Wanamaker and senior starter Tyrell Biggs, all had two fouls.

A major reason why the Wildcats only trailed by five was the play of Redding. He led the ‘Cats with eight points, while the rest of the starters combined for only 11 points in the first half.

When the second half began, things began to immediately turn in the Villanova’s direction. On the first possession of the second half, junior guard Scottie Reynolds notched his first three points with a shot from beyond the arc that brought the deficit to two points. Just a minute later, Blair picked up his third foul and was once again forced to the bench. Shortly after, Biggs recorded his third foul and was forced to the bench.

Pittsburgh was able to manage without them mainly because of the play of senior forward Sam Young. The reigning Big East Player of the Week converted a crucial 3-point play after a foul by senior Shane Clark that gave the Panthers a 37-34 lead.

Blair returned with 14:28 remaining in the second half, but it appeared to have no impact for the Panthers. Sophomore guard Corey Fisher hit a 3-point shot from the corner to tie the game 41-41 with 13 minutes remaining. A minute later he connected on a 3-point play to give Villanova the lead by three.

Pittsburgh rallied back and was able to tie the game at 48, but Blair was called for his fourth foul when he reached-in on Redding with 8:03 remaining. Redding hit both free throws to give Villanova a lead it would never relinquish.

Redding’s free throws were the start of a 7-0 Wildcats run that was capped off by a Reynolds 3-point basket with 5:25 left in the game. During the stretch, Blair returned but he could not get the Panthers going as they never got the game back to within one possession and eventually fell 67-57.

Redding’s season-high 18 points came mostly from the free-throw line as he connected on all 10 of his attempts. The junior guard has performed well since being inserted into the starting lineup with double-figures in scoring the last three games.

The Wildcats only had two other players score in double-figures. Cunningham finished with 15 points, while Reynolds had 10 of his own. Fisher finished fourth with nine points, including seven in the second half.

Sam Young led Pittsburgh with 14 points and nine rebounds. Wannamaker finished the night with 13 points before fouling out, and senior guard Levance Fields registered 11.

The story for Pittsburgh, though, was Blair who finished with only seven points and eight rebounds on the night. Coming into the game, Blair had back-to-back double-doubles and had only recorded below double figures in both points and rebounds once all season against Rutgers on Dec. 31.

The Panthers struggled from beyond the 3-point arc. The Wildcats connected on six of their 15 attempts, while Pittsburgh finished three for 16, including a 0-10 performance in the second half.

The last game Villanova played at the Spectrum was Jan. 2, 1998, against La Salle and its last win came on Feb. 23 1997, over UConn. With the win over Pittsburgh, the Wildcats finish with a 31-28 record at the Spectrum.

The Wildcats’ next game will be Feb. 1 when they take on the Cincinnati Bearcats. The game will be held at the Pavilion and will tip-off at 12 p.m.