MBB: ‘Nova declaws Bearcats

Kyle Scudilla

The Villanova Wildcats (18-7, 6-5 Big East), needing wins to boost its conference record in time for the Big East Tournament, won a must-have contest against the last-place Cincinnati Bearcats (10-14, 1-9). Mike Nardi led the way with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the 64-48 victory. The Wildcats raised their Big East mark above .500 and extended their winning streak to four games, thanks to another spirited defensive effort.

“We were executing early,” said Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright. “I liked how we came out and executed. On defense, we have a consistency we can count on, and that’s what you got to do.”

Villanova jumped out on top in the first half, taking a strong lead from the very beginning. The half would result in only one tie at 3-3, after which Villanova pulled away from the Bearcats with 18:50 left in the half. Forcing turnover after turnover from the Cincinnati starters, the Wildcats went on an 18-0 run. Nardi ended the half with 14 points.

Villanova was able to capitalize on Bearcat errors throughout the half. Cincinnati recorded 12 turnovers in the first half, resulting in 17 points for the Wildcats.

Cincinnati’s streak of turnovers created a gap where the Bearcats couldn’t muster a shot attempt. This stretch contributed to a scoring drought that cost Cincy the game. Villanova’s short-handed by supportive crowd chanted “double digits” when a free throw by Marvin Gentry finally increased the Bearcats scoring total to 10 with about five minutes left in the half.

Dante Cunningham was the other Villanova scorer in double figures. The sophomore finished with 11 points to go along with nine rebounds. The ‘Cats shot 40 percent from the field and maintained their Big East best free-throw percentage by connecting on 12 of 13 attempts from the line. Scottie Reynolds chipped in with nine points, while seniors Curtis Sumpter and Will Sheridan each finished with eight points apiece. All of Sheridan’s points came in the first half, while Sumpter contributed all of his points down the stretch to keep Cincinnati at arm’s length and thensome.

The ‘Cats outrebounded Cincinnati 35-25 and grabbed 11 steals, led by Redding and Reynolds who finished with three apiece.

John Williamson was the only Bearcat in double-figures, leading the team with 15 points. Cincinnati shot a dismal 34 percent from the field and wrapped up the game with 16 turnovers leading to 19 Villanova points.

On Saturday, Villanova survived a foul-plagued matchup against the Seton Hall Pirates (12-12, 3-8) by a final score of 78-69 thanks to Sumpter’s double-double and success early and often at the free-throw line. Sumpter finished with team-highs in points (21) and rebounds (10), while shooting 7-of-13 from the field and connecting on three three-pointers. As a team, the Wildcats shot 83 percent from the line and took 17 more shots from the charity stripe than the Pirates.

Nardi finished with 16 points and eight assists, hitting a team-high 11 free throws on 15 attempts. Cunningham came off the bench to add 14 points, while Reynolds chipped in with 11 points, going a perfect 9-for-9 from the free-throw line. Freshman Reggie Redding had a solid performance off the bench, contributing eight points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.

Villanova led 43-27 at the half, but Seton Hall, who entered the game with just nine active players and had three players foul out, staged a comeback despite being shorthanded. The Pirates shot 54 percent from the field in the second half, but could never quite surmount the Wildcats’ lead. Guard Jamar Nutter finished with 21 points for Seton Hall, while backcourt mate Eugene Harvey added 15. Larry Davis came off the bench to contribute 15 points as well for the Pirates, who shot 44 percent from the field and red-hot 47 percent from three. Still, the Pirates’ inability to contain the Wildcats’ offense gave Villanova too many free-throw opportunities, ultimately costing them the game and maybe a spot in the Big East tourney..

Seton Hall watched helplessly as Brian Laing, Stan Gaines and John Garcia, the Pirates’ three frontcourt starters, all fouled out of the game.

The Wildcats used that edge to out-rebound the Pirates by a wide 41-20 margin, including 12 offensive boards.