‘Cats’ defensive effort comes up short in 91-83 loss to West Virginia

Leslie Combs

‘Nova extended its conference losing streak this afternoon, falling to Big East foe West Virginia 83-91 at home. The loss comes a week after the ‘Cats were unable to mount a comeback against the Huskies in Hartford, Conn., losing 65-74 and leaves Villanova 12-7 overall and 5-2 in the Big East.

The win brings West Virginia’s record to 2-3 in the often boisterous Pavilion and 4-7 against the ‘Cats in Big East competition. Overall the Mountaineers are now 12-7 and 3-4 in conference play.

West Virginia’s 64.1 percent from the field from the field compared to ‘Nova’s 41.1 percent told the story in the Pavilion today, while the ‘Cats’ usually strong defense came up short against the Mountaineers strong attack.

“We didn’t execute defensively,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We get a lot off our defense. We score a lot off our defense.”

The ‘Cats’ lackluster performance on defense combined with their dismal day from the field, helped the Mountaineers to come out strong in the first and their offensive execution kept a ‘Nova first half comeback at bay. Averaging 91.8 points in the Big East this season, ‘Nova only put up six in the first six minutes of play and came up empty from downtown the entire first half. West Virginia’s continuous offensive assault brought the lead to 42-26 at the half, largely due to sophomore sharpshooter Drew Schifino’s 15 points. Senior Ricky Wright led the ‘Cats with nine.

Returning to the hardwood in the second, the ‘Cats tried to climb up to the top, but Schifino and company’s offense continued to close the door on any of ‘Nova’s attempts. Coach Wright tried to stage a comeback in the final two minutes of play, but the continuous fouling only added 40 more points on the board, while West Virginia’s solid performance behind the charity stripe helped the Mountaineers maintain control of the game until the clock expired.

Schifino ended the afternoon with 31, while classmate Tyronne Sally contributed 19. Wright’s 21 topped the ‘Cats with senior Gary Buchanan adding 17 and rookie Randy Foye dropping in 16.

Coming into the game, the ‘Cats were second in the Big East in rebound margin with +9.3, below only No. 2 Pittsburgh (+10.8), but were beat under the boards by West Virginia 32-34 this afternoon.

Wright attributed to his team’s poor work off the glass to its inability to mount a serious defensive game and agrees with his coach that the game came down to ‘Nova’s faults on defense.

“There was not an offensive reason why we lost the game tonight,” Wright explained. “It was all defensive. All-around in was just a bad defensive effort tonight.”

Losing a game in a tough conference such as the Big East is difficult for any team, but losing in front of the home crowd is oftentimes tough to swallow.

“This is a big loss because you take pride in defending your own court,” Wright said. “Any game here we feel like we should win and tonight we didn’t do that.”

After having a week off to prepare for the Mountaineers’ visit, the ‘Cats must regroup quickly to ready themselves for the Philadelphia Big Five battle Monday night against St. Joe’s in the infamous Palestra. ‘Nova enters its final Big Five game this season 2-1, while the Hawks come to the court bearing a 2-0 city record. Previously this season the ‘Cats held on to beat LaSalle 74-71 in a closely contested match at the Palestra Dec. 7 and convincingly outplayed Temple Dec. 31, winning 70-62 at home. ‘Nova fell to Pennsylvania 72-58 in the First Union Center Dec. 10.

Following Coach Wright’s strategy to take the season one game at a time, the ‘Cats are now looking ahead to their final Big Five match-up. Learning from today’s loss against West Virginia, but ultimately putting it behind them.

“It’s really disappointing to get a loss on your home court,” Buchanan said. “But you know sometimes things just happen for a reason and I think if we just stay together and just continue to play Villanova basketball we will be alright.”

The ‘Cats face the Hawks riding on a five-game win streak extending back to the 1994-95 season, but St. Joe’s returns to the Palestra soaring high after beating Penn there Jan. 25, 66-48. Tip-off for the cross-town rivalry Feb. 3 is 7 p.m.