After last night’s game, Jay Wright said that when you play against Big 5 teams, you “expect the unexpected.” Villanova’s slow start in the first half against St. Joe’s was nothing less than unexpected. The Wildcats shot just over 30 percent from the floor during the first half, but what left the team trailing 34-22 at halftime was the combination of a hot St. Joe’s hand that capitalized off of ‘Nova turnovers and missed tough shots. The Hawks were 12-24 in the first 20 minutes and gave Jay Wright a different look on offense, setting strong screens to give forward Chet Stachitas uncontested shots. With a sellout crowd of 8700 plus at the Palestra, and roughly half donning the red of the Hawks, the noise was turned up against ‘Nova, and they cranked it up loud.
What happened in the locker room in between halves we as fans don’t know, but what we saw as a result spoke volumes. Kyle Lowry’s performance told us he is truly a leader on an upperclassmen-dominated team. Impressive showings from Shane Clark, Will Sheridan and Dante Cunningham on both sides of the ball lessened the argument of a lack of presence in the paint. What this team accomplished at an “old school, split-the-house game,” as Wright described it, only proves its tenacity and depth, despite a missing Mike Nardi. Nardi failed to appear at the game after being diagnosed with tonsillitis earlier last week and being tested for mono last weekend.
The star of the second half was sophomore guard Kyle Lowry, hands down. While Foye and Ray both posted a respectable 14 points, K-Lo dropped 25, 17 of which came in his spectacular second half. In addition to his points, Lowry had four steals and six assists. After the game, when asked about the team’s attitude change, Lowry said “they were playing for each other, and they started talking more.”
While the silence in the first half may have given St. Joe’s some easy baskets, Villanova was relentless on defense, stifling the Hawks to 25 percent on field goals. Wright said “The first half of the second half was some of the best defense we have played.” Whether it was generating turnovers by Lowry and Foye, or Sheridan and Cunningham stopping drive down the lane, ‘Nova wasn’t about to let St Joe’s sit on their lead, going on a 21-3 run at one point early in the half.
Hopefully, Nardi is back for this Saturday against unranked DePaul in Ill., but more importantly, he needs to be ready for Monday night’s match-up versus No. 1 squad in the country UConn. UConn matches up big lined up next to the Wildcats, but as was apparent Tuesday night, there are some aspects to this team that cannot be measured.
Tuesday night the Hawks sized up Villanova, believing that without their traditional four guard attack, they could trap the offense up top and force the tough outside shot. For the first 20 minutes the new looks, crowd and plays got to them. What transpired the rest of the game is indicative of the season so far. The Wildcats are a great team, and the country thinks they know this, but nobody understands the extent of their talent, their determination or their passion, until they watch the ‘Cats come back to the beat them.