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18 January 2007

'Cats run over #20 Notre Dame

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/18/2007 03:23:00 AM

       Villanova     102
#20 Notre Dame    87

          (box score)

#20 Notre Dame: 15-3 (3-2 BE)
           Villanova:  11-5 (12-5, 2-3 BE, 3-0 B5)

Next game: vs. #21 Texas, 01/20 @ The Wachovia Center.

Night and day. That is the difference between tonight's win over #20 Notre Dame and the loss last weekend at the Carrier Dome. Tonight's game wasn't just a win, it was a coming-out party.

It wasn't so much that the 'Cats won, though beating a ranked team is always an achievement. After all, Villanova was favored by 3 points before the opening tip. What mattered most was how decisively Villanova won tonight's game. The 'Cats were in the driver's seat the entire way, dominating a good Irish team. How did they do it? Like I said, it was a coming out party.

It was a coming out party for freshman Scottie Reynolds. Though he had breakout games against DePaul and Georgetown, scoring 25 and 16 respectively in those contents, Reynolds dominated the game tonight like he had never before. This was Scottie's game. His career-high 27 points were impressive; still more impressive was how he scored them. At times I forgot I was watching Reynolds and thought I had stumbled in a time warp to last year, so much did his drive and float tactics resemble Randy Foye's. And there were times when Reynolds' #1 jersey could have been filled by its previous caretaker, Kyle Lowry, and his defense-be-damned determination to get to the rim.

It was also a coming out party for sophomore Dante Cunningham. All season, Dante showed flashes of brilliance, efficiently defending, rebounding, and scoring in the paint, but his efforts were always limited. Why can't they involve Dante more in the offense, I opined in this space. Well involve him tonight they did; Dante scored a career-high 19 in his usual efficient manner. What's more, Cunningham was the focal point of the offense. The team worked hard to get the ball down low to Dante in position, and it paid off, as many of us suspected it would.

Most of all, though, this was a coming out party for Jay Wright. All season long, critics had wondered whether Jay could adapt his guard-loving "take 'em" offense to his current stable of talent. Those questions have now been answered. The offense ran sublimely tonight. The offensive sets were executed crisply and with purpose; feeding the ball inside opened up the quality long-range shot opportunities the 'Cats had been sorely lacking.

The defense also looked fantastic tonight. It held the Irish to a very respectable 39.4 percent shooting, and made excellent adjustments whenever it seemed Notre Dame had cracked the 'Cats' code. Notre Dame's 15-34 (44 percent) performance from the three is partially misleading. Although some of those looks were open as the result of a defensive breakdown, several of the successful shots were closely guarded. Russell Carter alone made three or so three pointers that no defense could have stopped.

Wright also made good use of his bench talent, and the rotation finally seemed to coalesce. Wright's substitutions tonight kept his players running hard, his team's chemistry intact, and the starters' stamina maintained.

After Texas's epic three-overtime loss at Oklahoma State last night (one of the best games I have ever seen), I was resigned to the fact that the Longhorns would probably gore Villanova at the Wachovia Center on Saturday. Durant and Augustin looked unstoppable. After tonight, though, I can say in all honesty that if the Wildcats play on Saturday the way they played against Notre Dame, Texas will be the second ranked team in a row they send packing.

Onto the player grades. As always, click "READ MORE" below for player performance grades and analysis.

  • Curtis Sumpter (S, 29 min)

    What a night for Sumpter. The fire in the paint is back. Curtis scored 21, which is routine. What isn't routine is how efficiently he did it. Sumpter shot an excellent 7-12 from the field, and an even-better 3-4 from the three. Curtis took good three pointers, not jacking longshots, and it paid off tonight. Sumpter also totaled 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. Even the defense looked better, though not perfect. Sumpter did everything tonight, and he did it well.
    Grade: A-

  • Dante Cunningham (S, 30 min)

    Dante was an absolute monster tonight on the way to his career-high 19. His offensive efficiency did not suffer as he became the primary scoring option. If anything, it improved. Dante was 7-11 in shooting from the field. He notched 9 rebounds and 3 steals, leading the team. Also of note was a bone-jarring drunk that brought the house down. It's hard to imagine a better night for Cunningham. Let's hope there are many more to come. He gets a perfect grade tonight.
    Grade: A

  • Scottie Reynolds (S, 37 min)

    I said everything you need to know about Scottie tonight in the opening comments. I only wish there were a higher grade than A to give him. We know he scored 27 points, but how many shots did he take? Try 12. 27 points on 8-12 shooting from the field. Reynolds was also 9-10 from the free throw line, and 2-3 from the three. Scottie Reynolds is now Villanova's best player, bar none. We will go as far as he takes us this year.
    Grade: A

  • Will Sheridan (S, 32 min)

    Sheridan must feel good tonight. After a string of poor performances, Will shut up many of his critics with a solid game. He shot 3-6 from the field, scoring 6, on mostly good shots. The step away jumpshot just inside the arc is back. Sheridan also co-led the team in boards with 9. He did get burned on defense a few times, but tonight was a huge step in the right direction for Sheridan.
    Grade: B

  • Mike Nardi (S, 36 min)

    Michael Nardi is back. He really found his role tonight: distributor first, spot shooter second, hustle all around. Nardi led the team in assists with 7. He also found his stroke again, scoring 18 on 6-13 shooting. He shot 4-10 from the three, double the percentage of his last four games. He put in a good defensive effort, and stayed with Notre Dame's perimeter threats after allowing a few open looks early.
    Grade: B+

  • Shane Clark (23 min)

    Clark played his sixth-man role well tonight. He played good defense, shot a decent 3-5 from the field to score 9 points, and pulled in 6 rebounds. He was also a perfect 4-4 from the line. The best part of Clark's 23 minutes, though, was an out-of-nowhere power jam to finish a play on which pretty much everyone in the arena thought he would shoot a lay up. He is a spectacular athlete. If he ever improves his handle and shot, the NBA had better watch out.
    Grade: B

  • Reggie Redding (8 min)

    After not playing at all at Syracuse, Reggie was the seventh man in the seven-player rotation tonight. He looked good. The box score says he had 1 rebound, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers in 8 minutes. What the box score won't tell you is that he played good defense, handled the ball well, and had great court awareness. Two of those turnovers, by the way, were traveling violations called after he had been pushed by a double-team in the backcourt. Had the refs properly called those fouls, he would have had only one turnover. I would like to see more of Reggie, especially in the three-guard set so beloved by Jay Wright.
    Grade: B

  • Incomplete grades:
    Casiem Drummond
    (3 min), Bilal Benn (1 min), Dwayne Anderson (1 min).

  • Did not play:
    Ross Condon
    (CD), Frank Tchuisi (CD), Andrew Ott (RS), Antonio Pena (RS)

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