Shorthanded ‘Cats nearly claw out victory over Hoyas



Leslie Combs

Villanova’s season came full circle Wednesday, as the Wildcats ended the 2002-03 campaign with a 46-41 loss to Georgetown in the first round of the Big East Tournament, center stage at Madison Square Garden. The World’s Most Famous Arena hosted the season debut of the Wildcats’ highly touted squad on Nov. 15 when ‘Nova’s newcomers came up short against Marquette, losing 73-61. With even the possibility of an NIT invite now in question, the ‘Cats’ season might have ended just where it began.

In the months since their first trip to the Garden, the ‘Cats have ridden a roller coaster of a season that took a sharp turn last week with the staggered suspensions of 12 scholarship players for misuse of a University telephone access code. Fielding seven players, including a bench two deep with walk-ons, the ‘Cats were not expected to defeat the Hoyas, but slowed down the tempo enough to put up a fight.

The win advances Georgetown, the No. 5 seed from the West, to the quarterfinals against Syracuse, the West’s top seed that had a bye in the first round. It also brings the Hoyas’ first round win streak in the Big East Tournament to 6-0 and their season record to 14-14, while ‘Nova breaks even at 15-15.

For the ‘Cats, the loss also marks the first time they have bowed out in the first round of the tournament since March 1994 when, as a No. 5 seed, they feel to fourth-seeded Providence, 77-66.

From tip-off ‘Nova executed a trapping defense, hoping to force turnovers and keep the ball on the perimeter, away from Mike Sweetney, the Hoyas’ huge power forward.

Trading baskets and advantages throughout the first half, the ‘Cats managed to stay on top 23-20 going into the break, holding Sweetney to a meager four points. Snowden led the ‘Cats in scoring with 10, three from behind the arc, while Curtis Sumpter took control under the boards, grabbing six rebounds as the ‘Cats dominated the glass 17-10.

In the second-half, the ‘Cats continued to run the shot clock down, but the Hoyas picked it up from the exterior and took the lead with 13 minutes left.

Sweetney’s enourmous presence under the rim segued into four more offensive boards to bring his total to six and nine overall.

A cross-court steal from Snowden led to Randy Foye’s shot from downtown and brought ‘Nova within two with 1:05 left, but Georgetown answered right back with Gerald Riley’s jumper to make the score 45-41.

Victor Samnick denied Foye’s attempt to bring the game back to a single possession decision, but the ‘Cats failed to execute turning the ball over. Allan Ray then fouled Bethel who went one for two at the charity stripe.

‘Nova was unable to work with the 10 seconds left and Georgetown held the ball at the buzzer on top 46-41.

“It was a tough way to end the season,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.

“[There were] a couple of big rebounds we didn’t come up with. Just the little things you need to do at the end of the game, and we just didn’t get it done.”

The game earned its place in the Big East Tournament history books for the least amount of points ever scored with 87.

The previous record of 92 points dated back to Feb. 28, 1980 when St. John’s defeated Providence 48-44.

Wright’s strategy to slow the game down was the only conceivable plan for the short handed ‘Cats squad, but not executing in the final possessions while the Hoyas remained sharp with their shot as time expired ultimately ended the ‘Cats chances.

“I was worried that we would be overconfident because they only have five scholarship players,” Georgetown head coach Craig Esherick said. “Villanova was not going to give us the ball game, we’d have to win it. We made some nice plays down the stretch.”

‘Nova is bringing no excuses to the table for its loss, including its much discussed trimmed down roster.

“We were ready to win a game and we should have,” Wright said.

Unlike in its 56-54 loss to Pitt last Saturday, ‘Nova knew what it would be like to play virtually without a bench.

The game against Pitt was embedded in so much activity off the court, but this time around both opponents knew what to expect of each other.

“We prepared ourselves to come out and play a 40 minute game,” Foyed explained.

And playing the game in its entirety was exactly what they did.

Only Ray, sick with a stomach flu prior to tip-off, found the bench for two minutes.

Analysts suggest that Villanova will receive a NIT bid, but uncertainties still abound.

If the ‘Cats will have a chance to extend their season the same suspensions will still be in effect, but they are up to the challenge.

“As long as we get to play more games I will be happy,” Snowden said. “We all will.”

Wright acknowledged the trials the team has been through in the past week, and although he is disappointed with the first round loss he is pleased with the way the team has pulled together amidst its mistakes and life lessons learned.

“I am proud of our effort,” Wright said. “I am proud of how our guys responded to this situation,” Wright said.

“I hope they are not finished responding to this situation, but you want to win games. I think we are good enough to win some of these games but tonight we didn’t.”