Monday, January 3, 2011

The Coreys

Thanks to a Christmas gift from my dad, my brother and I were in attendance at the Villanova-Rutgers game Sunday at the Pavillion. And thanks to an inexplicable traffic backup at the mid county interchange, it took us 35 minutes to go 3 miles, we missed the first nine minutes of the first half. People suck at driving.

We finally made it to our seats with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half of this Big East opener for each team. The score was tied at 16. I was relatively surprised to see Rutgers staying even with the Wildcats to this point in the game. I completely expected Villanova to run away with the game, and eventually they did, but it wasn't as easy as I expected or as the final score would indicate.

Within minutes of us sitting down, 'Nova opened up a 6 point lead and I was thinking here comes the rout. Rutgers had other ideas. They used tough D, strong free-throw shooting, and brilliant ball movement to turn the 6 point deficit into a 4 point halftime lead.

I was not pleased. There was no way that the 8th ranked Wildcats, picked to finish 2nd in the Big East, should be losing to Rutgers, picked to finish 15th. I know preseason predictions don't mean shit (UConn was picked 10th in conference in preseason and currently is 8th in the AP poll with some very impressive wins), but still, it's Rutgers.

Villanova quickly eased my nerves. They began the second half on a 9-0 run, taking a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way. That run came from two guys, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. Stokes started the half by hitting his first field goal of the game, and then each guy hit a 3 on consecutive possessions. After an 0-3 first half, Stokes made 5 of his 6 second half shots to to finish 5-9, 4-7 from 3, and 9-10 from the line for 23 points. Stokes is playing his best basketball since arriving on the Main Line, and 'Nova will need him to keep doing so as they enter a brutal Big East schedule.

Not to be out done was the other Corey, PG Corey Fisher. Fisher is the key to this team on so many levels, especially in terms of leadership as he replaces one of the greatest Wildcats of all time, Scottie Reynolds. Fisher has been up and down so far this season, his shooting touch completely deserting him at times. But yesterday he was everything he was expected to be from the beginning of the year. He steadied the ship while a game Rutgers team was making waves and completely removing the crowd from the game. He hit big shots and found open teammates. He finished with 19 points on 6-12, 2-4 from 3, 5-6 from the line. He added 6 assists, and did a great job of keeping things in order and controlling tempo.

The Coreys stole the show and put the team on their backs as Villanova rolled to an 81-65 win, but 'Nova did get contributions from pretty much everyone. Roman Catholic's Maalik Wayns was struggling with his shot, but found other ways to make an impact, chipping in 9 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. It's good to see him not get frustrated when his shot isn't falling and still contribute in other ways. Antonio Pena added 8 points and 6 boards, Mouphtaou Yarou had 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks and Dominic Cheek came off the bench for 9 points and 8 rebounds.

This might not be a win that will make much of a difference to the selection committee come March, but it got the Wildcats off to a 1-0 start in conference play, and any win is important in Big East play. In a conference like this, which has 7 AP top 25 teams and 8 in the ESPN/USA Today poll despite supposedly being down this year, you certainly can't afford to lose games you're supposed to win. Villanova grinded out a tough, typical Big East game, avoided a let down against a lesser opponent and coming off an emotional Big 5 win over Temple, and got an all important conference win. Plus I was there, and it's always good to see your squad get a win, no matter the opponent.

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