MBB Recap: ‘Cats win Big 5 opener

Nathan McGann

In their first official road game of the season, the No. 17 Villanova Wildcats (7-0) continued their winning ways on Tuesday night after dominating a young University of Pennsylvania team 69-47 at the Palestra. The Wildcats used their superior speed and athleticism on both ends of the court to hold the Quakers’ offense in check.

Dante Cunningham registered yet another double-double, putting up 20 points and 11 rebounds. Cunningham’s ability to control the paint and hit the mid-range jump shot forced Penn defenders to double team him whenever the ball touched his hands. The combination spelled disaster for the Quakers because the extra defender on Cunningham meant a wide-open shooter beyond the 3-point arc. Corey Stokes drained three 3s early in the first half, helping the Wildcats shoot 50 percent from the field. He finished with 14.

Although the Wildcats’ lineup is undersized, their strength was evident on the low post in what amounted to an easy contest. Villanova out rebounded the Quakers 20-8 in the first half and executed a defense that shut down any lane to the hoop, essentially giving Penn several open jumpers. The Penn shooters, who understood they needed to shoot a high percentage in order to pull off the upset, were ineffective from beyond the line.

The ‘Cats offense began playing better as a unit more to begin the second half and continued the cohesive play to increase the 12-point first-half lead to as high as 24. The Wildcats passed the ball well, which, in addition to Cunningham’s presence, made it easier for the guards to get open. On one possession in the second half, four Villanova players touched the ball before Scottie Reynolds was found open in the corner. The Penn defenders failed to account for everyone, and Reynolds took advantage of their absence.

Dwayne Anderson returned to the court for the first time this season, albeit in a limited role, after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot. He hit a 3 late in the first quarter for his only points in the game and played only seven minutes.

Anderson’s return was made even more important after the Villanova coaching staff learned junior center Casiem Drummond would be leaving the team in order to look for a transfer. As he regains his health and increases his role on this team, Anderson should provide leadership, shooting ability and a nose for finding an opening on the floor, which will be vital once the Wildcats enter Big East play and leave behind another soft non-conference schedule. Head Coach Jay Wright can now use his projected eight-man rotation. 

The one black spot on the game was the fairly high number of turnovers committed by the Wildcats. Villanova had 15 in the game, a number Wright hopes will diminish before the big non-conference battle in New York City against No. 8 Texas at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic next week.

The win over Penn was Villanova’s sixth consecutive victory against the city rival, and its current 7-0 record is the best start since the ’05-’06 season, when the it began 10-0. Villanova will look for its eighth win as it welcomes the Houston Baptist Huskies to the Pavilion tonight. The Huskies enter the contest looking for their first win.