Wildcats hold on to overpower Quakers 73-63

Leslie Combs

Villanova is one step closer to this season’s Big 5 crown as the Wildcats kept cross-town rival Pennsylvania at bay Tuesday night winning 73-63 in the Palestra. The victory helps ‘Nova improve its record to 5-2, and 3-0 in the Big 5, while the Quakers fall to 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big 5.

Down three with 12:04 left in the first, the ‘Cats went on a six minute, 12-0 scoring run that proved to be the decisive factor in the game, building up a lead that ‘Nova managed to keep for the rest of the night.

“We were right there, it was 12-12, and then we don’t score for five, six minutes,” Penn head coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought they [the ‘Casts] did a good job of isolating us and taking advantage. They did a good job of separating themselves from us at that point.”

The contest, typical of Big 5 competition played in the mecca of Philadelphia basketball, was not over until the final buzzer. “You just know anything can happen here [the Palestra],” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We knew right until the last second it is not over with the way they shoot.”

Up 29-21 going into the second, ‘Nova continued to put down its shots, connecting on 12-19 from the field, increasing its lead to as much as 14 twice. Yet the Quakers kept on knocking and brought the score within five with just over a minute to play. The ‘Cats answered the call at the charity stripe, going 8-10 as the clock wound down to secure their second victory in three days.

‘Nova’s strong defense was a crucial to its ability to stifle an earlier Penn comeback. Going into the game the ‘Cats knew they must squelch the offensive power of Jeff Schiffner. The senior 6-foot-6 guard has already racked up three 20-plus games this season, including seven from downtown in Penn’s 67-59 loss to St. Joseph’s Dec. 6. Thanks to a smart defensive effort by Randy Foye and his teammates, ‘Nova held Schiffner to just 13 points, while the rest of the usually accurate long-ranged Quakers were held to just 25 percent behind the arc.

“I am very please with our defensive effort,” Wright said. “We think they [the Quakers] run great offense and we think they have outstanding offensive players and so to play good defense and hold a team like that to 38 percent … I am really pleased with our guys. I know they gave great intensity.”

On the opposite end of the court, freshman Mike Nardi led the ‘Cats scoring 20 points in a solid performance at point, while Curtis Sumpter ended the night with 18 points and nine rebounds.

Senior Adam Chubb scored a team-high 17 points in the Quaker loss.

Tuesday night’s contest was the second time this season ‘Nova had seven scholarship players eligible to play due to previous suspensions for misuse of a University telephone access code.

Essentially last Saturday’s 74-61 win over LaSalle and Tuesday’s win over Penn are the first true games of the season. Although the ‘Cats smart playing style is beginning to emerge with their players back on the court, Wright acknowledges that the team has a still has much work to do.

“This is our second game really the way we want to play now,” Wright said. “Two games doesn’t do anything, we have to do it again and again to prove this is kind of team we are. But it is a good start.”

With the win over Penn added to the recent LaSalle victory and the ‘Cats’ Nov. 21 midnight win over Temple 73-48, ‘Nova is just one win away from sweeping its Big 5 opponents. The ‘Cats must wait until Feb. 5 to take on its final Big 5 rival St. Joseph’s, also currently unblemished in the Big 5, to determine the season’s city series champions.

Before Philadelphia’s college basketball royalty is bestowed, the ‘Cats will take their two-game win streak back to the Main Line Dec. 12. Ending its exhaustive seven-game road trip spanning three time zones and three-plus weeks, ‘Nova returns to the Pavilion Friday for its home opener against Northeastern at 7:30 p.m.