‘Cats surge into Sweet 16

Joe Groglio

Two years ago, this was all a dream. A Villanova team that had played their hearts out in a Big East Tournament loss to eventual national champ UConn would be forced to sit at home and watch the NCAA tournament for yet another year. But as this team watched, they became hungry, hungry to win and succeed like their Big East brothers who had won two consecutive national titles for the conference.

Two years seems like an eternity, as Villanova now will play Boston College tonight in their second straight trip to the Sweet 16. Last year in Syracuse, this same Wildcat team was only a point away from knocking off eventual champion UNC in this very same game. Although the players are similar, this year is different. ‘Nova comes into this game as the No. 1 seed, a role different from their upstart status last season. Although the ‘Cats advanced last week with tough wins over Monmouth and Arizona, this time around nobody is surprised, and they shouldn’t be.

The first round game against Monmouth was a good battle against a team that just refused to believe they could not compete against the elite ‘Nova squad. Tough play from guards Tyler Azzarelli and Chris Kenney kept them in the contest, but eventually the athleticism and talent of the ‘Cats helped them pull away for a comfortable 58-45 victory.

As usual, the guards were the stars of the show, with Allan Ray showing he is recovered from his eye injury by pouring in 19 points. Randy Foye was also difficult to stop, as he cruised to 17 points of his own. No other ‘Nova player reached double figures, but Will Sheridan played outstanding on defense, grabbing 10 total rebounds to go with four points. A key to this game was the play of the bench, as Shane Clark, Chris Charles and Dante Cunningham all played key roles. Another key to the game was the atmosphere at the Wachovia Center, as a huge Monmouth following almost made the crowd neutral on essentially ‘Nova’s home court. Speaking to Villanova.com, head coach Jay Wright said, “I thought this was a home game for us and all of a sudden when they cut it to seven, that shocked me. Where did all those people come from?”

The victory allowed the ‘Cats to advance to the second round, where they would face another Wildcats team in West Coast power Arizona, led by legendary coach Lute Olsen. This game turned out to be a classic showdown between two teams with similar styles of play, as Arizona put together one of its best games of the season. Unfortunately, it was not enough to win, as clutch shooting down the stretch allowed Villanova to pull away 82-78.

The guards once again took over this contest, with Ray scoring 25 points and Foye adding 24 points to pace the offense. It seemed like the two all-conference guards would take turns hitting big shots whenever needed. The real story of the game was the dominance shown in the paint by ‘Nova, as Sheridan turned in another outstanding effort with 16 points and four boards and Cunningham ripping down a career high nine rebounds off the bench. Jason Fraser also had a solid game off the bench, coming in to give the ‘Cats solid defensive minutes in his first extended action in weeks.

The crowd was certainly not neutral in this one, as a huge Villanova following overwhelmed the Arizona crowd while Connecticut and Kentucky fans also jumped on the bandwagon at least for one game.

Mustafa Shakur, returning to his hometown of Philadelphia, turned in a solid game of his own with 21 points. Hassan Adams and Marcus Williams joined him in the 20-point club, scoring 20 and 24 points respectively. Adams also had a few highlight reel dunks off backdoor cuts, flashing his NBA potential to the bevy of scouts in attendance.

“We came together in this game more than any team I’ve ever played with,” Adams told villanova.com. “We wanted it real bad.”

Arizona made one last charge late in the game, cutting the lead to two points with just over ten seconds remaining. Clutch free throws by Allan Ray sealed the deal though, and booked the ‘Cats a trip to Minneapolis.

The contest against Boston College will be a match-up of two teams vastly similar to last years contest, in which ‘Nova prevailed 76-70. In that game, BC was the highly favored seed. Now the roles will be reversed. Regardless of the result, this team has accomplished a feat that hasn’t happened at Villanova since the early ’60s, reaching the round of 16 in two consecutive years. This Wildcat squad should be praised and remembered as one of the all-time greats in school history for their accomplishments, and if everything goes as planned, the best is only yet to come. How much things can change in only two years.