‘Nova and Connecticut rematch set for Sunday

Kyle Scudilla

After the Villanova Wildcats defeated the Connecticut Huskies last week, a few of the UConn players were asked if they’d be marking Feb. 26, the day the two teams would meet again, on their calendars.

Huskies’ point guard Marcus Williams gave the most revealing answer to that question. “Don’t expect the same result next time. I guarantee that.”

It’s not like this game needed any more in the build up department, but that comment, and the revenge UConn is searching for after being knocked out of the top spot in the national rankings, certainly adds even more drama to the upcoming game in Storrs, Conn. With Villanova’s victories over Connecticut and Georgetown last week, they cemented themselves as the frontrunner in the Big East. This changing of the guard was represented not only in the conference’s standings, but also the national rankings, with Connecticut losing its top position to Duke and Villanova reaching number two in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls. The move upward matches the highest ranking in the school’s history. The ‘Cats had previously been ranked second in the Associated Press poll on Dec. 4 and Dec. 11, 1995, when they were led by future NBA star Kerry Kittles.

While Villanova is looking to use the game as an opportunity to solidify its case for being a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, UConn desperately needs a win against the ‘Cats to salvage a split in their regular season series and regain some of the prestige they lost in getting dropped in the rankings.

Knowing a home-court loss against the Wildcats could potentially eliminate the Huskies from the running for the Big East regular-season title, coach Jim Calhoun will be busy in the coming week getting ready for ‘Nova’s vaunted four-guard look.

“They’re one of the more special-preparation teams to play,” Calhoun said, following the teams’ first meeting. “No one in the country has guard play like them.”

The overall attack of the Wildcats made the Huskies change their game plan to help counter the play of the quick guards. Forward Josh Boone played limited minutes so that the Huskies could have another wing player on the court to chase around Villanova’s guards. The move still did not help Connecticut in the turnover department, as their total of 17 nearly doubled the Wildcats’ tally of nine.

Despite the four guards being Villanova’s signature this season, with Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Mike Nardi all making big plays to help key the victory over UConn, another big reason for the win was the play of ‘Nova’s frontcourt.

While Villanova’s forwards have flown under the radar for much of the season, Will Sheridan stepped up immensely in his toughest matchup of the season. Against what many analysts consider the best frontcourt in the nation, the man they call “Bump” scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds. Also chipping in was freshman Dante Cunningham who, despite not scoring, grabbed seven rebounds in only his third career start.

After teams meet for the first time in a season, in any sport, spectators are always interested to see what kind of adjustments each team will make to their agendas in order to have success. What tweaks Calhoun makes to adapt to Villanova’s style of play, however, remains to be seen until Sunday.

“They made threes. Sheridan hit some tough baselines. I don’t know what adjustments you’d like us to make for Allan Ray’s 28-footers,” Calhoun said in his post-game press conference last week.

After doing battle with UConn for the second (and maybe not the last) time this season, the Wildcats will venture back to the Pavilion for their final home game of the season, when they take on the St. John’s Red Storm. While the Johnnies have struggled this year, going only 4-9 (at press date) so far in the Big East, one can be certain that the ‘Cats will be highly motivated for the game regardless of records. Since the game will be the last home date before Villanova hits the road for Syracuse and then the Big East Tournament, March 1 will mark Senior Night, where Wildcats’ seniors Foye, Ray, Jason Fraser and Chris Charles will be honored for their final game at the Pavilion. While the night will be emotional for the seniors, they should be able to keep their feelings in check to battle the Red Storm in what will be one of their final tune-ups before postseason play begins.

The Red Storm, meanwhile, will look to play spoilers, and do so for the good of their Big East Tournament hopes. St. John’s is currently on-the-outside-looking-in the Big East Tournament and might need to win both of its final games against Villanova and Rutgers to earn a spot in the brackets. The team’s best all-around player has been their solidly built forward Lamont Hamilton. The 6-foot-10, 253-pound junior is second on the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game and leads the squad in rebounding with an impressive 7.1 boards per contest.

Hamilton is joined in the frontcourt by 6-foot-7 small forward Anthony Mason, Jr. The son of former NBA All-Star Anthony Mason has had a good freshman campaign, averaging 8.3 ppg and 4.9 rpg. The Red Storm is led in the backcourt by guard Eugene Lawrence. The sophomore has solid overall numbers, averaging 8.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 5.0 apg. His rebounding figure is particularly remarkable, considering his diminutive 6-foot-1 stature.

For the game against Villanova, St. John’s will be without its leading scorer, Daryll Hill. Hill has averaged 12.3 ppg, 3.6 apg and a team-high 33.6 minutes per game. However the guard told his teammates before last week’s contest against Rutgers that his chronically-injured left knee would force him to end his season and with it, his college career. Despite only being a junior, Hill will turn 24 years old before the start of next season, and thus will be ineligible due to NCAA regulations. Head coach Norm Roberts’ squad has already proven resilient in the wake of this crushing news, however, posting a win at the RAC against Rutgers.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright has stated that his team has “stayed committed to one game at a time,” so it is unlikely that his squad will overlook St. John’s with the postseason looming. If ‘Nova can stick to this philosophy and win its final three games against Connecticut, St. John’s and Syracuse, opposing teams may not want to hear the answer to Georgetown head coach John Thompson III’s question to the media after their loss against the ‘Cats.

“Can they be any more dangerous?”