Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Other Side of College Gameday

Yesterday for the first time, ESPN's College Gameday came to Villanova and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.  It was an amazing experience, with many fans camping out the night before to make sure they had seats right behind the Gameday crew.  The crowd was electric all morning and ESPN seemed to be in awe at how the small school of 6500 students could muster up such a great crowd.  The Pavilion was rolling and the heartwarming story of two student basketball managers for the Villanova basketball team, who suffer from Cerebral Palsy, even had Erin Andrews tearing up.  The school was united and pumped for a primetime game vs. Pittsburgh.

Then the day finally brought us some basketball, with the Pavilion oppening up around 7 PM for a 9 PM game.  Students were there at 5, ready to roll.  The 1500 strong in the student section was drained from such a long day, but it didn't stop them at all, remaining as loud as possible before the game.  The game finally started and it was a typical, physical Big East matchup.  Two of the best offensive players weren't playing, as Corey Stokes for Villanova and Ashton Gibbs for Pittsburgh were hurt.  There were a total of three technical fouls in the game, and 43 total fouls.  Isaiah Armwood punched Nasir Robinson and was T'd up in the first half.  

Both teams struggled without their leading scorers, both shooting under 40 % for the game.  Villanova took a four point lead into the second half, but Pittsburgh answered early.  The Panthers started taking the ball to the rim and Villanova was in terrible foul trouble.  Playing only eight players all game, Villanova was in deep trouble when they had two players foul out (James Bell and Corey Fisher).  Both defenses played very tough, but the difference in the game is that Pitt went to the line 30 times vs. Villanova's 20 attempts.  The Villanova offense really had no rhythm all game and without Corey Fisher, who fouled out with 6 minutes left in the game, the offensive was put in a tough position.  Pitt led Villanova by 11 points with around five minutes to play, but coming out of a timeout, Jay Wright called for the 1-2-2 press.  With Isaiah Armwood's and Maurice Sutton's long arms, the zone press forced three turnovers in four possessions.  With Maalik Wayns hitting a few important baskets and a huge Antonio Pena three pointer with 50 seconds left, Villanova found themselves down by three.  Pitt had the ball and got through the Nova press and ran down the clock.  Brad Wanamaker lost the ball to Antonio Pena with 25 seconds left, giving Villanova a chance to tie the game with a three.  

Jay Wright called a timeout to set up a play, but what followed was ugly.  Without Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes both out at that point in the game, Villanova ran a play for Dominic Cheek.  Cheek was given the ball with around 6 seconds left and shot a contested, step back, fadeaway three which didn't have much of a chance of going in as it hit the front of the rim; however, Maurice Sutton picked up the rebound and passed it out to Maalik Wayns and the Sophomore guard hit the three, with the buzzer sounding right before he released the shot.  

Pittsburgh held on 57-54 and Brad Wanamaker led the team with 21 points.  Wanamaker is developing into a playmaker, averaging around 13 point and 5 assists a game.  He started his college career as a good perimeter shooter, but now he is able to knock down that mid-range jumper with a hand in his face.  He is a good passer and facilitates the game for his teammates.  Look for Wanamaker to make some noise in the final month of the regular season.

In the big picture this game is huge for Pittsburgh as they went on to Villanova's campus and beat the Wildcats in the Pavilion, where they held a 46 game winning streak.  Pittsburgh has pretty much locked up the Big East regular season title, while Villanova has to go back to the drawing board.  With another two loss week, Villanova now finds itself at 7-5 in the Big East, getting back towards the middle of the pack. 

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