‘Cats trounce Musketeers, exact revenge on Butler in statement weekend


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

The Wildcats huddle during their game against Xavier.

Joe Donovan

It is something every coach aspires to see, yet few do: Their team playing to their full potential. Coming off a ten-point home loss to Marquette, the team’s sixth game in an 11-day stretch, Villanova head coach Harry Perretta’s squad came out with a renewed vigor. The ‘Cats put together their most complete game of the season on both sides of the ball en route to a dominant 89-50 road victory over fellow Big East competitor Xavier.

Villanova’s offense wasted no time getting things going. Taking advantage of a hot start from the junior duo of Adrianna Hahn and Jannah Tucker, they jumped out to an early 10-2 lead with 6:35 to go in the first. The Wildcats’ offense continued to operate with remarkable patience and execution as they closed the first quarter up 24-9. The ‘Cats kept things rolling in the second, highlighted by a three play sequence, which featured emerging star sophomore forward Mary Gedaka drilling a three pointer, a lockdown team defensive stop, and senior swiss army knife Alex Louin splashing in another three to increase their lead to 27. From that point on, the outcome of the game was never in question. The starting unit, led by Louin’s 24 point outpouring, put the finishing touches on their sensational performance in the third before turning things over to the second unit in the fourth (congratulations to freshman walk on Grace Lange for netting her first career basket). When asked what factors attributed to his team’s impressive offensive performance, on a night they shot an eye popping 61.7 percent from the field, coach Perretta simply remarked, “It was one of those nights where we seemed to make every shot.”

The only drawback from Villanova’s prolific offensive output is that their equally dominant defensive showing might not get the recognition it deserves. From the opening tip, the Wildcats put on an exhibition of team defense. They were aggressive, taking the ball away and contesting every look. It was evident the ‘Cats were putting an emphasis on preventing the Musketeers, particularly senior guard Jada Byrd, from creating the same dribble penetration that gave them trouble in their first meeting, when Byrd scored a team high 12 points. This strategy proved successful, as Villanova held Xavier to 30.6 percent shooting for the game. While smart game planning set the foundation for defensive success, it was Villanova’s intensity that fueled it. From big time rejections by both Tucker and Bridget Herlihy, to Hahn ripping the ball away from Anniina Äijanen after an offensive rebound, to Brianna Herlihy taking on three Musketeer defenders to force a jump ball, there was no shortage of highlight defensive plays.

After unleashing the best shooting performance the Big East has seen in the past four years upon the Musketeers, the Wildcats looked to carry their momentum into a Sunday afternoon rematch with Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse. The first meeting between these two teams back on Jan. 2 was one to forget for Villanova, as they lost by 23 in a decisive road victory for the Bulldogs. Nearly four weeks later, the Wildcats sought to return the favor.

As first quarter action got underway, Villanova’s sensational sophomore guard Kelly Jekot could not be contained, scoring eight of the team’s first ten points and propelling the Cats to an early 10-3 lead. Defensively, Villanova placed a significant emphasis on locking down the interior, specifically standout junior Tori Schickel (who scored 26 points on 10/11 shooting in the first meeting). By double and sometimes even triple teaming Schickel, the Wildcats held her without a basket until nearly half way through the second quarter, and prevented Butler from scoring anything inside the arc until early in the second. Despite the ‘Cats early success defending the interior, the Bulldogs kept things close thanks to the hot long range shooting of redshirt junior Whitney Jennings.

Fans just tuning into the game at the onset of the second quarter may have thought they were getting a preview of next week’s Super Bowl halftime performance with all the indoor fireworks going off. Seven different Wildcats drained at least one three-point shot before halftime, buoyed by a second quarter that saw the Cats go 8 for 12 from beyond the arc. Despite this explosive shooting performance, Whitney Jennings continued to keep the Bulldogs within reach. In seemingly the blink of an eye, the once 16 point Villanova lead dwindled to just seven after a steal by junior Michelle Weaver, which led to a Butler basket with 1:45 to go in the second. However, the Wildcats managed to snatch the momentum back after Jannah Tucker drew a pivotal charge leading to a Hahn three-point basket just seconds before halftime.

Coming out of the half, both teams struggled to find their touch offensively. With both squads going scoreless until the 4:58 mark, Butler finally broke the stalemate. However, from this point on, there would be no shortage of action. After a steal off an inbounds pass, Butler’s Jennings knocked down another three to trim Villanova’s lead to 44-40. Not to be outdone, Gedaka answered with a nifty post move which led to an and one opportunity, pushing the lead back to seven. A scary moment ensued around the 2:45 mark when both Villanova’s Bridget Herlihy and Butler’s Iman Lathan required help off the court after a brutal collision. Fortunately, both players appeared to avoid major injury as Lathan would later return to the game and Herlihy to the bench area under her own power.

Both teams’ offenses returned in the fourth quarter, setting up a very entertaining finish.  Schickel’s strong second half continued as she hit an impressive hook shot while being fouled to give her a three-point play and Butler their first lead of the game at 55-53. Butler’s lead was short lived, as Hahn immediately responded with a three-point play of her own to give the Wildcats a one-point advantage with six minutes to go. Moments later, Schickel muscled her way to the hoop to swing the score back in Butler’s favor at 57-56. But again the ‘Cats responded, regaining a one-point lead after a put back layup from Gedaka. A few possessions later, with the score deadlocked at 58, Tucker nailed a three-point field goal with 2:23 to give the Wildcats a lead they would maintain the rest of the way. Despite Schickel and Jennings combining for 38 points on 16/21 shooting, the Wildcats came away with a critical conference victory on their senior captain Alex Louin’s 22nd birthday.

The Wildcats 2-0 road trip improves their overall record to 17-5 and their Big East record to 7-4, good enough for third place in the conference. Villanova’s performance this past weekend demonstrates why they should not be overlooked come March. The ‘Cats are back in action Saturday, February 3rd when they play host to Georgetown.