PHILADELPHIA, PA. 1/18/2015 – Those of us who grew up with Big Five basketball know that a sold out Palestra with a “visiting” nationally ranked team, well, strange things can happen. We’ve seen this movie before. With just under ten minutes to play the University of Pennsylvania Quakers trailed by one point, and the Palestra was rocking. But the #5 Villanova Wildcats responded with a 21 – 6 run to earn a 62 – 47 victory. With the win Villanova is the city champion again this season. This one was not easy.
“Penn played us real tough,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “We scrapped in this environment and gutted it out. We played every play until the end and broke it open.”
Villanova found a way to put this game into the victory column. That way was provided by junior forward Daniel Ochefu who scored a game-high 21 points shooting 8 for 12 from the floor. He also added 10 rebounds to record a double-double, and handed out 4 assists.
With 9:54 to play a three-pointer by Penn freshman guard Antonio Woods, who scored a career-high 18 points, made the score 38 – 37 in favor of Villanova. The distinctive “Palestra Roar” was there, one well-known to Wright. The Wildcats battled it by getting the ball to Ochefu, who was not double teamed. He played a key role in the decisive, game-deciding run by first finding junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono in the corner who sank a three. On the next possession Ochefu assisted on a layup by junior guard Dylan Ennis. He sank two free throws, made a layup, then assisted on a layup by freshman guard Phil Booth. With 58 seconds on the clock Villanova had a 59 – 43 lead.
“Coach tells us to take what we get,” said Ennis who was the only other Wildcat to score in double figures with 10. “He (Ochefu) got it going and when he did, we looked for him. He played great down there.”
“To win the game you have to defend,” said Penn Coach Jerome Allen. “We are struggling to score, but we are getting stops. Then we gave up the middle. It was our inability to sustain our defensive principles for forty minutes.”
The Wildcats never trailed, but could never pull away. Penn stayed in contention, but could not get a lead.
“The game was never out of reach until the last couple of minutes,” Allen said. “We were in striking distance. We talked about staying locked in. You have to capitalize when you have opportunities.”
“These games are awesome,” Wright said. “They’re great for us. Everyone in the northeast knows it’s a sold out Palestra, and we take great pride in that.”
Turnovers played a key role as Penn committed 17 for the game which led to 21 Villanova points. The Wildcats had 6 miscues which the Quakers turned into only 4 points.
Villanova is the repeat city champion and has beaten Penn 12 straight times. The Wildcats are 17 – 1 and prepare for a Monday encounter at Georgetown in a Big East battle. Wright thinks this experience will help the team in conference games.
“Big Five games are similar to Big East games,” said Wright. “They prepare us. We know it’s a tough environment and we like being in those types of games.”
Penn drops to 4 – 9 on the season. The Red and Blue will host Monmouth on January 21, then get ready for another Palestra battle against Saint Joseph’s next Saturday.
Written By: Glenn Papazian