"Best GameDay ever" seemed to be the consensus from ESPN's announcing crews. Indeed Villanova put on a great series of events which consumed the better part of the day leading up to the 9:00 pm game. Was the host exhausted from the hosting responsibilities by game time? Or are those older alums and FOPs who sit in the lower stands are as quiet as many (especially students and younger alums consigned to the upper stands) whisper they are? The fans packing the Pavilion seemed subdued, even as the Wildcats took control of the game early. The game was competitive through the first 25 minutes. Villanova took a four point lead (27-23) into the half, and continued to nurse a three point lead through the first 3-4 minutes of the second half, but hard fouls on sophomore center Mouphtaou Yarou brought hard words exchanged between Yarou and Pitt forward Nasir Robinson. As sophomore forward Isaiah Armwood stepped in to lead Yarou away from the potential confrontation he threw his arm (closed hand) around Yarou in an exaggerated motion that caught Robinson square in the face. Armwood did not look at Robinson either before or as he led Mouph away, and without instant replay one would be hard pressed to know whether the gesture was accidental or deliberate. The technical on Armwood negated an opportunity for Villanova to build on their lead at the line while hanging another foul on the Panthers. Pitt managed to erase Villanova's lead and was flirting with a 10 point edge when Corey Fisher grabbed a Gilbert Brown missed three point attempt and started a one man fast break. Brad Wanamaker wrapped himself around Fisher as the Villanova guard raced into the lane, effectively killing the break and forcing the senior to go to the line to get the points. More words were exchanged, this time between Robinson and Fisher. Double technical. Fisher's fourth. And what could have been two shots and the ball became a wash. Distracted, with two of their three senior leaders on the bench and the third hobbled with a rolled ankle, the Wildcats muddled around another four minutes before mustering a final rush in the game's last 3+ minutes. A refocused Villanova squad pressed and ran for those last possessions and managed to narrow the losing margin to three.
The Athletic Department website posted the official boxscore and the AP wire story, "No. 9 Wildcats Fall to No. 4 Pitt, 57-54" (yes, that really was the score, not a typo). The breakdown by halves...
|Opponent:||University of Pittsburgh|
"The Pittsburgh game may make paint drying seem like a speed sport." -- a quote from my West Virginia post game analysis, but the teams in this game actually had 16.7% more possessions. The game was dominated by defense, with Villanova's collapse on the inside in the second half the difference. Lacking a steady "senior" hand from minutes 32-36 was crucial to the stalled comeback.
Those Eight Minutes...
Armwood's technical was called at the 16:22 mark of the second half. The immediate fallout was Gilbert Brown's two made free throws, which, offset by Yaour's two made free throws, maintained Villanova's three point advantage. Brown missed a three point attempt just as the first four minute segment of the second half closed, but that was misleading, as the next eight minutes saw Pitt outscore Nova by a 17-4 margin. Looking at the possession-based numbers, those eight minutes were indeed ugly...
Scoring four points in 10 possessions might be the worst efficiency of the season. While the 'Cats dominated the boards during the period, limiting Pitt to several one shot trips, the combination of turnovers (four) and ice cold shooting negated strong offensive (57.1%) and defensive (100%) rebounding numbers through the eight minute segment. This was a physical game, with hard fouls given with the dual purpose of stopping a scoring play or grab a rebound and to intimidate the home team and take them out of their comfort zone. Surprisingly aggressive behavior which the referees seemed to ignore. Against the 'Cats it worked this time.
Records, Next Up...
Villanova's records stand at 19-6 overall and 7-5 in conference (wow, it really has been a bad week). The Wildcats lost ground to Pitt, Notre Dame & Louisville (they have a tie breaker advantage over Louisville). The Panthers solidify their hold on first place and a high NCAA seed, with a 23-2 record overall, 11-1 record in conference play. Villanova takes another mid-week run out to New Jersey to play Seton Hall, followed by a swing out to Chicago to play DePaul. Pittsburgh returns home to host South Florida in a mid-week game, then travels to New York for a game with St. John's on Saturday.