Wildcats look to rout Explorers

Matt Clark

Last week Villanova dropped a heartbreaker to Temple in a Big 5 Classic match-up at the Palestra. Saturday, the ‘Cats are heading back in search of some redemption.

LaSalle is similar to Temple. They are both mediocre teams in a mediocre A-10 conference. They each have losing records, they each lost a key player to graduation, and they each lost to Villanova last year. It will be up to Curtis Sumpter to stop the parallel and make sure that they each don’t upset the ‘Cats.

Last year LaSalle forward Steven Smith, as a sophomore, scored 17 points and took down nine rebounds in 37 minutes of play. Only twice last year did Smith score less than 10 points in a game, and he notched eight double-doubles.

This year he picked up right where he left off. Smith is the Explorers’ leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 27 points and 8.5 boards per game, respectively. Twice so far this season he has played the entire 40 minutes. He is LaSalle’s leader, the Explorers’ “go-to-guy,” the team’s most experienced player.

Sumpter must shut down Smith. Smith and Sumpter are evenly matched up. Smith is 6′-foot-8-inches. Sumpter is 6-foot-7-inches. They are both juniors and they both made conference honors last year. Smith and Sumpter also contain that indefinable substance called leadership.

In the Explorers’ game against Southern California last Tuesday, Smith had a career-high 27 points and snatched 11 rebounds to help his team bounce back from two consecutives losses to start the season.

Against Monmouth University, the ‘Cats were only up by seven going in to half time. Sumpter came out on fire in the second half scoring 10 points and leading his team on the defensive end of the court.

Saturday in the Palestra will feature two marquee forwards. If Sumpter can shut down Smith, the ‘Cats should cruise to victory.

The Explorers have one other option to go to: junior guard Jermaine Thomas. Thomas is shooting 50 percent from the floor and 50 percent from behind the arc thus far in the 2004-05 season. Thomas, however, has not started every game this year and can be easily taken advantage of by Allan Ray.

The one factor that the Wildcats should fear is coaching. Simply put, Jay Wright got out-coached by Temple in the final seconds of last Saturday’s game.

This weekend he faces Dr. John Giannini in his first year at LaSalle. Giannini, however, is 293-149 in 15 years of coaching at the college level. He made the post season five times in the mid-nineties at Rowan and holds the best winning percentage in school history at the University of Maine. At Maine (a school that in the American East, by the way) he notched major road wins at Providence, Marquette, Northwestern and St. Louis. Point-blank, the man knows how to win against “good teams.”