Three point shooting catapults ‘Cats

Paul Martucci

Nineteen feet, nine inches.

Those who can remember back to driver’s ed may recognize that as a safe following distance when traveling 20 mph. Those who have more of a vertically inclined mind might recognize that three Curtis Sumpters stacked on top of each other would reach this height.

But for those associated with Villanova basketball, 19 feet, nine inches is an essential distance. It represents the distance from the hoop to the three point line.

In three games this season, the ‘Cats have lived from behind that 19 foot, nine inch line. In the past two games alone, an extraordinary 30 three-pointers have fallen. Equally remarkable, their three-point shooting percentage over the past two games is an astounding 46 percent.

“We want to shoot threes,” head coach Jay Wright said. “We have great confidence in Allan and Mike and Randy, especially. Those three are pretty deadly.”

The three point shot has propelled the 3-0 Wildcats to early lopsided victories. In the past week, the ‘Cats have defeated Lehigh 84-47 and Rider 86-57.

With a comfortable average margin of victory of over 36 points a game, the Wildcats have cruised through the early schedule with no legitimate tests. Unmatched team and individual performances, however, were a part of both the Lehigh and Rider victories.

As the campus returned from a satisfying Thanksgiving, a couple thousand students lucky enough to win a ticket from the lottery packed into the Pavilion for a showdown with Lehigh.

The dominating performance was expected, but the style in which the Wildcats performed was not. Playing against a zone, ‘Nova came out shooting. Within the first ten minutes, the ‘Cats had sunk five threes and were already up 25-10. These five threes would wind up being less than one third of the team’s total on the night, as the Wildcats, led by the shooting of their four guards, shot a record 17 threes on the night.

Leading the effort was senior guard Allan Ray. Ray hit a personal best eight three-pointers, which also broke Villanova’s individual three-point record.

Ray totaled 26 points on the night, with only two points coming by means other than the three-point shot.

Fellow senior guard Randy Foye chipped in 21 points, with 15 of those 21 coming from five three-pointers. Junior guard Mike Nardi scored 14, 12 of which coming from four three-pointers.

By the end of the night, the Wildcats had shot 17/33 from the 3-point line. Their 33 three-point attempts outweighed their 26 regular field goal attempts, but the team’s 52 percent average from behind the arc and a stingy defense which created 14 turnovers enabled a 37 point victory.

Against Rider on Wednesday night, Villanova’s offensive attack picked up exactly where it left off. Again, the ‘Cats 32 three-point attempts outnumbered their 30 regular field goal attempts and its high shooting percentage from the 19 foot, nine inch line allowed the team to sink 13 threes.

Ray again led all scorers, with nine of his game-high 21 coming off three-point shots. Sophomore guard Kyle Lowry added a career-high 20 points converting 75 percent of his shots and 88 percent of his free throws. Nardi added 18 of his own, with all 18 points coming from converting six of ten three point attempts.

Despite the 29 point victory, Villanova faced its smallest second half lead thus far this season, as Rider started the half on a 7-0 run and was able to decrease the lead to 11. In the face of adversity, however, the Wildcats held strongly.

Lowry, after seeing the lead slip to eleven, took matters into his own hands by driving the court, penetrating the defense and converting the lay-up while drawing a foul. He sunk the foul shot to bring the lead back to 14.

After Rider guard Harris Mansell missed a lay-up, the ‘Cats sped back up the court and Randy Foye sunk a three-pointer, increasing the lead to 17. Serving as the final dagger, ‘Nova coasted from there to the victory.

With the three early brush ups out of the way, Villanova now prepares for Oklahoma on Saturday and Bucknell on Tuesday. Oklahoma’s size in the frontcourt will provide a stark contrast to Villanova’s speed in the backcourt.

“Sometimes when you play mid-major teams you match up better with four guards,” Wright said. “I like how our forwards played tonight against quicker guys. We need to know what we’ll do against a big team like Oklahoma.”

With Villanova, the No. 4 team in the nation, hosting Oklahoma, the No. 5 team in the nation, at the Pavilion on Saturday, the campus will be alive and buzzing with excitement.

But judging by the past three games, one can assume that the ‘Cats shooting from the 19 foot, nine inch three point line will be a key to victory.