VILLANOVA, PA 2/27/2013 – The Villanova Wildcats looked to end a three game home losing streak. The consecutive losses came against #2 Notre Dame, Marquette, and #12 Louisville. To have to reverse the trend against the Red Storm of St. John’s would not be an easy task. Villanova gave the appearance they would do that for most of the game. However, costly mistakes late along with the close game experience of St. John’s proved to be the difference in a 52 – 49 defeat for the Wildcats at the Pavilion.
“Our kids played really hard and defensively we did what we wanted to do, but we made key mistakes at key times.” said Assistant Coach Joe Mullaney acting coached as Harry Perretta was forced to miss the game due to a family emergency. “Their two better players made plays when they had to make plays.
We had a lead, but could not break away,” said Villanova senior forward Laura Sweeney said. “You hold a lead like that for most of the game and let them come back, it stings.”
The Big East rivals battled for entire game. There were 9 ties and 6 lead changes. Villanova held the lead for most of the second half, but the largest lead was 4 points. The last four-point cushion for the host team came with at the 6:43 mark on a free throw by sophomore forward Emily Leer. St. John’s would tie the game at 45 with 3:27 to play as Shenneika Smith converted a layup. Sweeney untied it with a three-pointer with 2:55 to play. That would be the last basket for the Wildcats, and mistakes would take their toll. Villanova turned the ball over on their next possession that resulted in a steal and layup by Red Storm guard Nadirah McKenith who scored a game-high 19 points. That cut the Villanova lead to one point. St. John’s took the lead at the foul line on free throws by McKenith. The two better players Mullaney referred to were Smith and McKenith who scored 10 of the last 11 Red Storm points.
Villanova had a late opportunity with 31.9 seconds to play. Sweeney missed a free throw that would have tied the game, but she gathered the offensive rebound. The Wildcats worked the ball to senior guard Rachel Roberts who put up a three-point shot that missed. Villanova had to foul to stop the clock. McKenith missed the free throw giving the Wildcats a last chance. They looked to get the ball inside to Sweeney, but a passing lane did not exist. Junior guard Devon Kane drove the ball and put up a short jumper with 3 seconds on the clock that bounced off the rim. St. John’s rebounded, and two free throws by Smith ended the scoring.
“We were trying to go to Laura (Sweeney), but we couldn’t get the ball where we wanted to get it,” said Mullaney. “Devon (Kane) ended up with it. She didn’t think Laura was open. She tried to make a play at that point. She’s made a lot of big plays, and it was a clean look and a good shot.”
Villanova was held to 4 of 14 shooting from beyond the arc as St. John’s defended the three-point line. The tactic forced the Wildcats to drive to the basket or get the ball inside to Sweeney. Villanova shot 18 of 46 for the game (39.1%).
“We had success this year when teams are doubling and we can kick it out to the three-point line,” Sweeney said. “They were able to double and recover quick enough, so we weren’t getting our three-point shots. We did score from the inside.”
Along with scoring a team-high 15 points Sweeney took down a game-high 11 rebounds recording her ninth double-double of the season.
Going 9 of 16 from the free throw line also hurt the Wildcats cause.
Villanova is 18 – 9 on the season, but falls to 7 – 7 in the Big East. It was a game that Villanova needed to enhance their NCAA Tournament resume. St. John’s improves to 10 – 4 overall and are 10 – 4 in conference which ties Red Storm for third place in the Big East.
Written By: Glenn Papazian