As 2004 ended, the Villanova Wildcats men’s basketball team said goodbye to a year full of promise and potential and opened the door to a season full of execution and results. With huge wins against West Virginia and Providence, and hard fought battles against Notre Dame and Georegtown, the ‘Cats proved to themselves and to the nation that they are ready to step up and become the great team they aspire to be.
Against West Virginia, the Wildcats were considered underdogs, as the then No. 23 ranked Mountaineers were red hot, coming off victories at NC State and George Washington. But the Wildcats defense took over the game early and never let up, as they cruised to a dominant 84-46 victory at home.
Allan Ray led the way with his 26 points, aided by Curtis Sumpter’s 13 points and seven rebounds. Mike Nardi had one of his best games of the early season, lighting it up with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and only two turnovers. Randy Foye combined stellar defense with 11 points of his own, also pulling down five boards and dishing out four assists. Jason Fraser added great defense with nine rebounds and three blocks, and freshman Kyle Lowry continued to make an impact with his six points and six rebounds.
After the victory, the ‘Cats traveled to South Bend, Indiana, where they showed a great deal of confidence in a battle with Notre Dame. Playing without Sumpter, who was sidelined by a knee injury suffered during practice, ‘Nova stayed tough all game but eventually lost 78-72.
Seeking retribution, the team traveled once more-this time to Providence to play a strong Friars team. It took overtime to do it, but the ‘Cats pulled off an 83-78 victory behind an inspiring performance from Jason Fraser. Fraser scored 25 points, including 10 with an injured hand, to pace the Wildcats. He also grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked five shots.
Ray had another high scoring game, adding 27 points, and Foye contributed 12. Lowry and Will Sheridan also put in solid efforts with seven points each.
This buildup brought the Nova Nation to a showdown with the rival Georgetown Hoyas, who had played tough all year against opponents, even knocking off Pittsburgh. The afternoon was a special one, as former coach Rollie Massimino had his jersey retired in a halftime ceremony, which also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 1985 championship team. The entire team was in attendance, along with other legendary players Massimino tutored throughout his years at the university.
The special moment was somewhat tainted by Georgetown finding a way to claw out a 66-64 victory, ironically the same score from the 1985 classic championship game , except reversed.
The game featured the return of Sumpter to action, and he did not disappoint, scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Ray continued to be a hot scorer, with his 17 points, and Nardi put in a solid effort with 12 of his own. Foye battled through foul trouble to add nine, and as always he played a key role with his defensive presence. With Sheridan and Marcus Austin combining for nine points inside, the ingredients were all there for a win.
But a questionable foul call with only 0.1 second left to go in the game cost the Wildcats, as the Hoyas were able to convert on both free throws to win the game.
“I thought he stepped over the line and thus never properly in-bounded the ball; that’s what I was telling the ref,” Coach Jay Wright said afterwards.
“Theres no doubt the ghosts of Michael Jackson and Harold Broadnaux, Pat Ewing, etc., were up there letting that pass fall into the hands of Owens,” John Thompson, the head coach for Georgetown, joked.
The Wildcats now sit at 10-3, going into the toughest stretch of the season thus far. But if the performances as of late are any indication, this team is ready to go and will do whatever it takes to get to the promised land and clinch an NCAA tournament berth.