Saturday, March 21, 2009
Villanova roughs up UCLA
By Dana O'Neil ESPN.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Twenty-six seconds in, Darren Collison drove to the hoop. Scottie Reynolds met him at the door, knocking Collison hard enough to bloody the UCLA guard's lip. Collison walked away with a smile. Reynolds stood his ground.
An early collision between Darren Collison and Scottie Reynolds set the tone for Villanova and UCLA's slugfest.
Three minutes in, Josh Shipp drove to the hoop. Dante Cunningham met him at the door, slamming Shipp to the ground. Shipp walked over to ask the official about the severity of the foul. Cunningham stood his ground.
Four minutes in, Corey Fisher went end line to end line. Nobody stopped him. The Villanova sophomore spun in the lane and directly to the hoop, sending a rainbow layup into the basket.
As he ran by Shipp, Fisher just shook his head. "You're going to see a lot more of that," he said.
The score was 9-6, but Villanova's message to UCLA was abundantly clear: You're not on the West Coast anymore.
Or, as one eloquent fan shouted from his seat in full East Coast throttle, "This ain't Hollywood. This is Philly."
It's also where the road ends for the Bruins, their quest for four consecutive Final Fours stopped by a new version of the Broad Street Bullies in the form of an 89-69 drubbing.
"Maybe Scottie didn't score a lot of points, but that first play, that set the tone for us," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
The tone was nasty, your typical coastal clash with the laid-back surfer dudes from Cali getting pantsed in an East Coast street fight and then crying home to their mamas.
"I was talking to the official because I thought they were fouling too hard," Collison said.
Villanova would beg to differ.
To the Cats there is no such thing as too hard, happily risking foul trouble -- Cunningham missed the last 12:36 of the first half with two fouls -- to get UCLA off its game.
"Honestly, if I'm out there and a team is that forceful from the jump, not even worrying about fouling, just going out there like it's a free-for-all, I'm like, 'Whoa, whoa,'" Cunningham said. "I think it would be hard to get your bearings back."
Apparently, because the Bruins walked off the court still wobbly.
Collison may have taken Reynolds' first punch, sinking the free throws after the hard foul, but UCLA was no match for the lefts and rights that kept on coming. The Bruins trailed 44-31 at the half and couldn't raise the gloves in the second half to protect themselves, down 19 before the first TV timeout came.
They were helpless against the Cats' dribble penetration.
The lane looked like a Los Angeles highway.
At 4 a.m.
Dante Cunningham led Villanova's balanced attack with 18 points.
The Wildcats scored 46 points in the paint and only 18 of them belonged to Cunningham, their most productive big man. The rest came off hard drives to the rim or kickouts. Fisher scored just 13, but four came in eye-popping fashion, when the feisty guard broke some ankles and shut some mouths with his moves.
"Shipp said something to me after he fouled me," Fisher said. "So when I scored I just wanted to let him know we were here to play today."
For Villanova, which will head to its fourth Sweet 16 in five years, there is more to this victory than just embarrassing UCLA. When Wright arrived eight years ago, he built his program on defense, offering up offensive freedom to his players in exchange for defensive intensity.
He established an Attitude Club, in which players are awarded for hard-nosed plays like taking charges and diving for loose balls. Players will tell you winning Attitude Club at the end of the season means even more than finishing as the team's highest scorer.
But in February, the Wildcats forgot who they were. Villanova still won, but the Cats fell a little too in love with their offense, scoring 94, 102 and 102 points in succession -- and worse, giving up 91, 85 and 84.
So when Wright gathered his team before this game, he challenged them to play "40 minutes of Villanova basketball," coachspeak for an entire game of withering defensive pressure.
"We had gotten away from that," associate head coach Pat Chambers said. "We were scoring all these points but that's not who we are. That's not who we want to be. I think we really recommitted ourselves before this game. We wanted 40 minutes."
Did the Cats get it?
"I'll give them 36," Chambers said.
No doubt so will the Bruins.
Once Collison gets his lip stitched, that is.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.