‘Cats claw No. 1 ranked Huskies

Paul Martucci

The Wachovia Center was silent.

Four minutes had expired in the second half, and the Wildcats, who entered the half with a one point lead, were now down twelve as the result of a 13-0 run by Connecticut.

Facing this deficit against the nation’s top ranked team, the ‘Cats needed inspiration. Coach Jay Wright, who had just begun his coaching career when Villanova won its last game against a No. 1 team, spoke the same words he’s told this team all season long.

“Coach Wright got on us in the huddle,” senior Allan Ray said. “They were playing UConn basketball harder than we were playing Villanova basketball.”

And, much like the ‘Cats have done all year, they bought into Wright’s philosophy. ‘Nova answered UConn’s run with a 17-2 run of its own, emerging with a three point lead. Allan Ray sunk four three-pointers over that stretch.

“UConn was just giving me shots, Coach Wright was running the right plays for me and my teammates were giving me the ball,” Ray said. “It was all part of execution. Once I got going, I felt like I couldn’t miss a shot.”

Ray would drain one more three-pointer following the 17-2 stretch, scoring 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. His efforts, however, were supplemented significantly by 6-foot-8 junior Will Sheridan.

Sheridan, who netted nine points in the second half, tied his career high with 13 key points on the night. When UConn spread its defense to answer the ‘Cats three point attack, Sheridan was left with wide open baseline jumpers.

“Everyone doubles our guards, why wouldn’t you?” Sheridan told reporters. “They were kind of backing off a little bit. I just felt like I had good looks tonight. The guards were seeing me.”

Even when the defense did attempt to prevent Sheridan’s jumper, he showed a rare flash of ball handling skills as he drove to the hoop and dunked over the nation’s best shot blocking team.

Kyle Lowry, who was averaging 20.0 points per game in his last two contests, fearlessly sliced and diced through the Connecticut defense throughout the first half to lead the ‘Cats with 16 first half points. A defensive adjustment by the Huskies, however, forced Villanova to abandon its penetrating mentality for a more shooting-based one in the second half. This caused Lowry to convert only one more basket.

Regardless of the adjustment, Lowry finished second on the team in points with 18 and led the team in steals with four.

Mike Nardi, who was playing in his first game back since missing the wins over St. Joseph’s and DePaul with tonsillitis, saw only 16 minutes of playing time. In that time, however, he converted one clutch three-pointer which gave Villanova a one point lead with 12:14 remaining in the game.

It left Connecticut stunned and caused the largest crowd ever to witness a college basketball game in the state of Pennsylvania, at 20,859, to explode in noise. In Nardi’s short time, he, along with Randy Foye, led the team with three assists.

Foye, who hit only 30 percent of his shots on the night, still managed 10 points and two three point baskets in addition to his three assists. He combined with Ray, Lowry and Nardi for 56 of Villanova’s 69 points.

After the ‘Cats used their 17-2 run to establish a 50-47 lead, Connecticut challenged but never successfully erased the margin. As Ray stood coolly at the free throw line and drained two free throws to make the score 69-64 with less than three seconds to play, the fans knew that No. 1 had been taken down. As the clocked ticked down to 0:00 and the wood-paneled court became a sea of blue and white, one thing was evident.

The Wachovia Center was no longer silent.