Friars pray for the win

James Evans

’Nova travels to Rhode Island this weekend to take on Providence for the second time this season. The ’Cats come into the game well-rested after weekend’s storm dropped more than 20 inches of snow all over the eastern seaboard and caused the postponement of their game against Seton Hall Monday.

The last time the ’Cats had a week off to prepare for a game they looked sluggish, as they lost to West Virginia and then followed that game up with one of their worst performances of the year against St. Joe’s.

The real question coming into this game is not if the ’Cats can play good defense or even score, but if they can handle the party atmosphere of Providence’s venue. It is the Animal House of the fraternity that is the Big East Conference. However, it is sad to note that Providence is more popular for its parties than its basketball program of late. This one-time power in the Big East has fallen over the last couple of years.

In 2001, an early exit from the NCAA Tournament foreshadowed the trouble that was on the way. Last year the Friars finished with a record of 15-16, including losses in their last three games and a heartbreaker against Georgetown in the opening round of the Big East tournament, losing 68-67.

But Providence is looking to return to the top of the Big East, and it has several stellar players it will be relying on in the next couple of years.

This year Providence has had to rely heavily on its sophomore forward Ryan Gomes to carry the team. Gomes is averaging 18 points and just under 10 boards per game for the Friars. Also for a big man, Gomes brings an unbelievable touch with him when he goes to the line, leading his team in free-throw percentage at 85 percent.

Joining Gomes in this revamped Friar offense is freshman sensation Donnie McGrath. McGrath, a New York native, was ranked as one of the top 100 seniors in the country last year while in high school. Friars head coach Tim Welsh saw the opportunity and snatched up this guard before any other Big East team had the chance to get him. McGrath has certainly been worth all the praise and is averaging 9.5 points and five assists a game. Also, McGrath has been a huge fill-in for the vacancy left in the point guard position, left open by the graduation of John Linehan. Last year’s defensive guru, Linehan was the key in many of the Friars wins, as he amassed over 130 steals last year and easily set the new NCAA career record in the category.

Finally, the third threat on this Friar team is junior Maris Laska. This Latvian can straight-out shoot. Laska is shooting 38 percent from three-point land, while averaging 10 points a game this season.

The ’Cats must go into this game with reckless abandonment, Providence is a hot team coming in on a two-game winning streak and looking to defend its home court. The best thing for the ’Cats to do is try to dump the ball down low to Ricky Wright and get Gomes in early foul trouble. If they are able to get Gomes out of the game, it could be smooth sailing.

After traveling to Providence, the ’Cats return to the Pavilion Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. to face off against the Hurricanes. ’Nova has already beaten Miami once this season, a hard-fought battle that went to overtime before the ’Cats finally won, 72-67.