Monday, December 13, 2010

Just in the Nick of Time — the Rest of the Weekend

Believe it or not, I did not have one sip of alcohol this weekend. The last time a drop of an adult beverage hit my lips was after Temple handed Georgetown its first loss Thursday night.

Instead of boozing, I made up for lost TV time, relaxing in my house and taking in some games. It began on Saturday with the Flyers taking on the Bruins in Boston. The game proved to be an extremely even contest, with James van Riemsdyk continuing his inspired play by opening the scoring on a great pass by Jeff Carter. The Bruins tied it up in the 3rd, and the game went to overtime.

That's when Mike Richards, just three days after he and Danny Briere thought they had beat the buzzer for the win, actually did net a game-winner just in the nick of time.

It was an exciting ending, as Richards scored with just three seconds remaining in overtime before a shootout would have decided things. Brian Boucher was tremendous in net, stopping 35 of the 36 shots he faced, but the game was marred by an ugly hit by Jody Shelley, who was, in my opinion, rightfully suspended for two games.

Beyond that, I watched Syracuse absolutely demolish Pitt, which was nice to see, and saw the crazy footage of the Metrodome roof collapsing.

Then I heard the news that Al Golden left Temple to take over as the new head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. Golden did one hell of a job turning a pathetic Temple program into one of the best in the MAC. It should be quite interesting to see what he can do in a high-profile job down in the recruiting hotbed of Florida.

And yesterday, as an afternoon primer to the Eagles-Cowboys Sunday night matchup in Texas, I watched the Big 5 battle between Villanova and La Salle.

Heading into this game, I was most excited to see what standout sophomore Aaric Murray would do against the 12-ranked Wildcats. The sophomore from Glen Mills is averaging a very impressive 15.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 1.3 steals, and doing it all while shooting 55.1 percent from the field and 84.6 percent from the line (not to mention making 2-5 from three, good for 40 percent). I couldn't wait to watch him for the first time this season.

Sadly, I saw very little of Murray. Early on, he was a man on the boards and his size was giving Villanova some trouble, but Murray quickly got in foul trouble and wound up playing only 12 minutes all game.

With Murray saddled in foul trouble and Nova coming in as favorites, you would think the Wildcats would have run away with this thing. But that wasn't the case at all. La Salle jumped out to a big lead early, withstood a Nova barrage and even held an eight-point lead late. Senior Jerrell Williams and freshman Sam Mills were outpeforming pretty much all of Nova's household names.

Williams finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-13 shooting and had 7 boards, 5 assists and two steals. He was the best player on the floor yesterday. Mills scored 14 big points himself, doing most of his damage from beyond the arc, hitting 4-5 from downtown.

But when push came to shove, Villanova simply made the biggest plays when they mattered most. After shooting terribly most of the game, the Wildcats his some big shots late, particularly Corey Stokes. Stokes igniting Nova by going 4-8 from three, scoring 16 big points. Maalik Wayns, who was terribly off in the first half, picked it up big-time in the second, finishing with a team-high 19 points on 8-15 from the field, 3-4 from the line and adding 2 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals, including a vital one late and huge layup down the stretch.

Dominic Cheek also had a huge hand in the victory, finishing what Stokes started by hitting 4 threes himself, finishing with 14 points and 5 boards. Yarou cleared the glass, hauling in a game-high 9 boards. Pena made it five Wildcats in double digits with his 13 points, and Corey Fisher, despite having a horrendous shooting day (3-11), finished with 16 thanks to getting to the line 12 times (and converting on 9 of them), and dished out a game-high 8 assists.

Essentially, it was a total team effort for Villanova, and that proved to be just a little too much for La Salle. But I have to say this: I was incredibly impressed with the Explorers. Even with their best player limited by foul trouble, La Salle stood toe to toe with Nova. They're a tough team and shouldn't be taken lightly by anyone in the Big 5, A-10 or the nation for that matter.

Over the past few years, Villanova has made running through the Big 5 look rather easy. The only real competition they've faced in the city battle has come from Temple. But La Salle proved yesterday that they're ready to join the party. Strong performance by La Salle and a tough, hard-fought victory for Nova.

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