‘Cats lost to St. Joe’s, but ‘Nova Nation won

Phil Consuegra

I learned a lot of things on Monday as I stood in the fifth row, waving my pompom and yelling at Jameer Nelson and Delonte West to miss their horribly over-distributed foul shots. I learned about my school’s team, their rivals and their fans. I learned that when pushed, our Pavilion can be one of the most exciting places to watch basketball in the country.

This Villanova team has been so frustratingly inconsistent this season that it has brought much toil and strife to its supporters, especially myself. But there was something about that team we saw at the Pavilion on Monday night that made me proud to be a Wildcat. Battling one of the top teams in the country and blatantly questionable calls, these Wildcats showed their true colors. Most teams playing against St. Joseph’s would have given up after starting a game the way ‘Nova did. The lead was 19, and many of the fans watching at home probably turned off their televisions.

But the ‘Cats, wearing their throwback 1985 jerseys (which I really hope is the new look), were not going to go so quietly. They got within five points in the second half, but then the foul line took over. When fouls like “hugging” are called on Nelson and missed travels are everywhere, there’s not much they could do.

Jay Wright’s boys hung around though, and never let the Hawks really get comfortable. Even though ‘Nova lost, they exposed something about St. Joe’s that teams will thank them for later. I’m talking about how to beat St. Joseph’s.

Slowing down the game and being patient, working the ball inside against a soft interior defense and playing ferocious man-to-man defense around the perimeter are what it takes. Whoever finally beats St. Joe’s will do all those things. Fortunately for the Hawks, teams in the Atlantic 10 don’t do things like that, but teams in the ACC, Big East and Big XII do. If you’re against the Hawks, tournament time will be fun to watch.

The Villanova fans weren’t going anywhere either. As much as Nelson and West tried to take us out of the game, they couldn’t. We kept screaming, we kept waving the pompoms, we kept chanting “safety school” and “‘Nova rejects.” As much as they tried to bring down the ‘Nova Nation, we just got stronger. And we realized that we can be one of the most exciting student sections in the country. We can jump up and down, scream at the top of our lungs and distract a foul shooter just as well as Duke or Chapel Hill. If we cheered all season the way we cheered on Monday, the Pavilion would be one of the toughest places to play in the NCAA.

In my time in that student section on Monday night, I witnessed the camaraderie that we share as a school and the passion we all share for Villanova. Admit it, all of us, to some degree, are pretty darn proud of this place. Why else would we spend all night in a hot, sweaty student section getting crushed by the burly Navy ROTC guy next to us and losing our voice even though we have an oral presentation the next day? We could have just as easily sold our ticket for top dollar.

But most of all, my fellow Villanovans, I really learned what college basketball is all about. Never before had I witnessed such a passionate display of school spirit and heart. It’s a spirit and heart that binds us all together, not just as college basketball fans, but as Wildcats. We can look into our crystal balls and see a Final Four appearance. Maybe not this year, but as the games go by, it’s getting closer. Monday night was a huge indicator of what is to come.

So what is on my wish list? The ‘Cats need to work on turnovers and try to avoid making them. They need to work on playing smart, taking the high-percentage shot and making it. Work on finding the open man. A pass into double coverage isn’t the best idea when you’re down by six. Maybe Yao Ming can get through it, but he’s 7-foot-6 inches. Our defense still needs to get solid underneath. The good news: we’re young and we’re improving.

Finally, if Monday night didn’t tell Vince Nicastro and Father Dobbin this, I don’t know what will. Mr. Nicastro, Father Dobbin, stop making us play at the Wachovia Center. Bring every home game to the Pavilion. That’s what we want and what we need. Be proud of our school and its students. Show off our campus. Don’t make us go all the way into Philly for a home game. Let the country see our school and what it can do at home.

Yes, St. Joseph’s is 19-0. Yes, they beat the ‘Cats. Yes, they’ll probably win the Big Five, and yes, they could run the table until March.

But we have something that St. Joseph’s definitely does not: the best student section in Philadelphia and the love for a school and team that will never die.