MBB: Wildcats take two on road

Kyle Scudilla

The Wildcat men did something on Wednesday night that no other team outside the Big 12 Conference had done since 1999: they beat the Oklahoma Sooners on their home court, 67-51.

Villanova snapped Oklahoma’s 49-game home-court winning streak against non-conference opponents, which had stretched back to their last such loss against Cincinnati seven years ago.

The Wildcats seemingly cruised to victory, getting out to an early lead and never looking back. Villanova led 36-25 at the half and continued to build on their lead after the break.

Mike Nardi led the way for the Wildcats scoring 23 points, making nine of his 15 attempts from the field. He also hit a team-high four three-pointers.

Curtis Sumpter and Scottie Reynolds also finished in double figures. Sumpter had a solid overall line with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds.

Reynolds, overcoming a hostile Oklahoma crowd, finished with 10 points. The freshman guard was booed every time he touched the ball, thanks to this off-season’s events when he broke his commitment to Oklahoma to come to Villanova after the departure of Coach Kelvin Sampson from the Sooners.

Key to the victory was the ‘Cats’ defensive effort, which forced Oklahoma to commit a season-high 24 turnovers.

The men’s basketball team also tipped off this year’s edition of Big Five play with a win over the Penn Quakers, 99-89.

The game was high-scoring, thanks in part to both impressive shooting and a ton of personal foul calls. In total, there were 66 attempted free throws in the game. Penn made its field goals at a much better clip, 58 percent to 45 percent, but 25 Quaker turnovers led to 19 more shot attempts for the Wildcats. Red-hot free-throw shooting also helped the Wildcats’ cause. Villanova finished the game shooting over 93 percent (27-for-29) from the line despite the sometimes hostile atmosphere of the Palestra.

The score was close in the latter part of the second half, with Penn actually taking a small lead after trailing for nearly the entire contest. Brian Grandieri’s two free throws gave Penn a 72-70 advantage with less than 10 minutes remaining. After Villanova countered with a 3-pointer from Reynolds, Penn tied the game again thanks to another trip to the free-throw line.

A key sequence by Villanova’s Shane Clark, in which he grabbed two offensive rebounds, scored four points and blocked a Quaker shot attempt all within about one minute of play, energized the ‘Cats, giving them a lead they’d never relinquish.

Sumpter led Villanova with 28 points. The fifth-year senior was seven for 16 from the field and a perfect 10 for 10 from the charity stripe. Sumpter pointed to the near-flawless free-throw shooting as a big reason why Villanova won the difficult struggle on the road.

“It’s very important,” Sumpter said. “It’s a tough atmosphere. It’s probably one of the toughest places you can play. It’s such a big game, and you can be a little nervous on the free-throw line, but by just being focused and taking your time out there, we were able to accomplish it and go 27 of 29.”

Sumpter was one of four Wildcats in double figures. Nardi, though struggling a bit from the field, hit three 3-pointers and scored 19 points to go along with four assists. Freshman guard Reynolds led the team with five assists and added 11 points.

Clark was a big reason why Villanova ultimately won the game, finishing with a solid line of 16 points and six rebounds.

Coach Jay Wright was quick to praise his sophomore forward on his game-changing plays.

“Shane Clark is Villanova basketball,” Wright said. “He gets it. He’s never worried about whether his shot’s going in, what the call was before or anything. He’s just playing basketball every possession, and I love it.”

Mark Zoller led four Penn players who finished in double figures. Zoller finished with 33 points due to hot shooting from all over the floor. After scoring 22 points in the first half, Villanova seriously limited Zoller’s second-half looks.

“After I made those threes in the first half, they kind of denied the ball to me a lot,” Zoller said with regards to Villanova’s defensive adjustments. “We were trying to run some plays to get open looks for me but it was pretty tough.”

Ibrahim Jaaber contributed 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the losing effort. Penn made 66.7 percent of their shots in the first half. In the end, their 25 turnovers led to 28 Villanova points and were too much for their hot shooting to overcome.

Villanova’s young team won an important game in a Philadelphia rivalry matchup against a team that many feel is the favorite to win the Ivy League.

“This is a really good team,” Wright said. “This will be a good RPI game for us.”

Despite being proud of his team for getting a win against a talented Penn team just days after an easy 72-44 win against Stony Brook, Wright often echoed a reminder to the media after the game.

“We still have a lot of work to do.”