Women earn Elite Eight bid

Cailin Brophy

Second-half comeback sparks unlikely win over Colorado; sets up match against No. 1 Tennessee.

Updated March 30If anyone can figure out how the Wildcats keep on winning, please let head coach Harry Perretta know, because he still doesn’t understand. “I don’t know how we do it,” Perretta said after his team’s unlikely 53-51 victory over Colorado. “We’re not big, we’re not strong, we’re not quick, but we find a way to win. It’s one of the most extraordinary things I’ve seen in basketball in 25 years.”After being down by as much as 11 points in the opening stanza, the ‘Cats had their fate in their own hands, clinging to a one-point lead with 27.9 ticks remaining. ‘Nova center Jana Rediger came up with a huge defensive stop on Buffs’ center Tera Bjorkland, who had her way with the ‘Cats in the first half. Wildcat senior Trish Juhline sank two free throws just as calmly as the ones that iced juggernaut UConn in the Big East Championship, and ‘Nova got the defensive stop it needed to snatch away the victory from Colorado.The Wildcats have become Villanova’s second most-winningest women’s basketball team, boasting a 28-5 record heading into Monday night’s match-up with No. 1 Tennessee. The ‘Cats have quickly become the tournament’s biggest contradiction in terms; the Cinderella two-seed who always seems to stand heads below but hearts above its physically and statistically superior opponents. What the ‘Cats lack in size and power, however, they make up for in consistency, diligence and a simple but effective philosophy.”It was the kind of game we were trying to play,” Perretta said. “We were going to give up two point shots and try to limit their threes and make more threes than them.”Colorado was able to throw the ‘Cats off course throughout the entire first half, however, quickly establishing Bjorkland in the post. The 6-foot-5-inch center has scored over 20 points in eight of her last nine games and led all scorers with 11 going into the break. Bjorkland and teammate Kate Fagan scored two more field goals than the entire Villanova team in the first half. The ‘Cats netted just six in the opening stanza on a 25 percent mark from the floor. Yet for a team that often runs the shot clock down to under 12 before even crossing halfcourt, panic was the furthest thing from their minds.”We know that if we panic, we have no chance of winning,” Juhline said.Perretta reiterated the patience that has become one of his team’s hallmarks and greatest assets throughout the year.”I told the kids during the second half that if we’re going to lose, it will be by playing the same way that got us to this position.”The ‘Cats made it a game towards the end of the second half. That’s when Courtney Mix took over. The junior went on a 6-0 run of her own, scoring on three straight dribble penetration plays. When the lane wasn’t open, she kicked it out to teammate Katie Davis for her fifth trifecta of the afternoon, giving the ‘Cats their first lead of the game, 50-47. In the last two games, Davis has owned a three-point field goal percentage that many free throw shooters would envy, connecting on 11 of 17 in her last two outings. She led her team with 16 points, with all her field goals coming from long distance. Mix stormed her way through the box score in her usual fashion, garnering her fifth double-double of the year and her second in three games, with 15 points and 12 rebounds. She also dished out three assists, blocked a shot and stole the ball twice. Rediger was a crucial defensive cog for the ‘Cats at the end of the game as well, stifling Bjorkland in Mutombo-like fashion and finishing the contest with six blocked shots. Now that the highly-anticipated match-up between Tennessee and ‘Nova has materialized, one has to wonder just how many unlikely wins one team can amass in a season. In terms of seeding, this will be the first game in the tournament where the ‘Cats are technically not the favorite, yet they’ve already earned that most coveted March Madness moniker.”Cinderella is a good way to describe us,” Davis said. “We definitely feel like we’re the underdog in almost every game.”Villanova will look to keep people scratching their heads when they dive into the sea of orange on Monday night to face the hometown favorite Volunteers. The friendship between coach Perretta and Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt has become one of the most talked-about storylines of the tournament. But Perretta feels that the game will be just as hard-fought as any postseason battle, perhaps even more so because of the off-the-court relationship.”Did you ever play sports against your best friend? How hard did you play against them?” Perretta said. “That’s the way sports should be. When we play, we compete real hard, when the game is over, we hang out together.”Game time is set for 7 p.m. Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena on the campus of Tennessee.