‘Nova successful at holding off late rallies

Phil Consuegra

Many basketball teams in the NCAA understand what it’s like to be the hunter, the one who looks to upset the high-ranked teams, hoping for a season-changing win. A few just know what it’s like to be the hunted, avoiding upsets and dodging bullets. But fewer understand how to go from being the hunter to being the hunted. The transition from having nothing to lose to having a huge target on your back is one that is not easy to master. Just ask the Villanova Wildcats. But then again, it looks as though they’ve done a pretty good job of that transition so far.

Twice in the past four days, the Wildcats have played what they call “character games.” These are games that test what kind of a team they are, how well they respond to the pressure. In my opinion, they’ve shown us all that character-wise, they’re one of the best teams in the country.

Two straight games down at halftime. Down five to a scrappy, well-coached, and resilient Marquette team, the Wildcats seemed to pick their moment to strike, and strike they did. Down most of the second half (and ultimately, down most of the game), it seemed as though there was more heart than anything else in the team. The Pavilion was the best I had seen it this season, with every single fan getting into the action by the end of the game. Somehow, someway, the ‘Cats pulled off a victory and showed what they were made of, with poise and grace.

Rivalry Week is always a finicky thing, and I can remember Dad telling me during those Georgia vs. Georgia Tech games back home when I was young, “It doesn’t matter what the records are or how poorly either team is playing. It’s always a war.”

We have our own version of that war here at Villanova, with our inferior cross-town rivals ready to hand us an upset in the storied Palestra this past Tuesday night. And it seemed, for twenty minutes at least, that’s exactly what they were going to do.

Down at halftime, this time by 12, for the second straight game and without Mike Nardi, the Villanova side was pretty darn quiet for the first 30 minutes of the night. Chants of “We can’t hear you” came echoing from the St. Joe’s side of the Palestra, and they deserved to chant it. For twenty minutes, the Hawks took it to the Wildcats and made it look easy. But fortunately, for the good guys, a basketball game is two halves.

I’m not really sure what Jay Wright said to his boys in the locker room at halftime, but whatever he said, it worked pretty well. The Hawks played a different Wildcat team in the second half at the Palestra, and Phil Martelli, Chet Stachitas and the entire St. Joe’s half of the court looked on in awe, as the Wildcats put on a little clinic for their 10-9 rivals.

Four straight dunks (one by the little bulldog from Philly), or what I like to call “pump the fans up plays,” on four straight possessions. ‘Nova may have lost the first half by twelve, but they won the second half by 25. The outcome was gorgeous, and the last thing the St. Joe’s fans heard as they booked it out of the Palestra, probably going to sulk about being up twelve at halftime and losing by thirteen, were chants of “the Hawk is dead”. Boy, is it ever. Maybe St. Joe’s has a shot at the NIT, but it’s not likely.

Obviously, everyone would like to go into halftime with the lead. But in these last two games, we’ve learned more about the Villanova Wildcats than at any other point in the season. We’ve learned that they can come together and find different ways to win. We’ve learned what they’re made of. We’ve learned how they handle pressure.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We can all learn a little something from the Villanova Wildcats. We can learn that while you may be down at halftime, it’s a whole new game in the second half. We can learn that an upset may be looming, but as long as you keep your composure and just let things flow, you’ll come out on top. It’s about trusting yourself, trusting your teammates, and trusting your fans. Fate, my friends, will guide the rest.

It’s going to be a lot of fun to see where fate leads these ‘Cats. I have a feeling we’re not going to be disappointed.