(Guru's Note: Some timing issues and technologial glitches have sent Kathleen Radebaugh's first City Series/ Big Five-Drexel coverage over here. An account of the closely-fought Rutgers-Stanford showdown up north can be found over at women's hoops guru
.)-- MelBy Kathleen RadebaughPHILADELPHIA
_ This is a different Villanova team. This is a different team that brings new athleticism and new names to remember to the Big 5.
Wildcat senior Stacie Witman is likely to be the Big Five player of the week, although she was limited to nine points in a 49-47 loss at Loyola, Md., Sunday, as Villanova's shooting went cold in the second half.
On a very chilly Friday afternoon, Witman, a starting forward, scored a career-high 31 points against La Salle at the Explorers' Tom Gola Arena.
It was the season opener for both teams.
In what is the norm in Big 5 competition, the outcome was still in question towards the remaining minutes of the game, but it was Witman’s open threes that secured the win for the Wildcats, 64-58.
“Towards the end, Wit[man] was so hot,” said teammate Laura Kurz, a junior transfer from Duke “We just tried to give her the ball and make sure we knew where she was on the court at all times.”
At first, nobody was making shots. Almost midway through the first half, LaSalle led 13-6. For the first eight minutes, the Explorers were ahead by seven points. Senior Carlene Hightower scored seven of the Explorers’ first nine points.
Hwever, Villanova started making threes and then went on a 26-6 run til four minutes into the second half. At 16:33, the Wildcats led 44-27.
Head Coach Harry Perretta’s ethic to always keep shooting started to work in favor of the Wildcats.
“Our shots were not falling in the beginning, but Coach always tells us to keep shooting because they are eventually going to fall and that is what we did,” said Kurz.
In the second half, the shots stopped connecting at a time when Villanova reverted to its patience on offense and LaSalle was successful in chipping away the differential to only two points with nine minutes remaining in the game.
First home game, LaSalle wants a win.
First away game for Nova, they want to prove they can win on the road against notable basketball teams.
“We knew we had to dig ourselves out of this, and we were not going to go home with a loss,” said Witman. “Once my shots started to fall again and everyone was playing better defense-it just happened. Last year, we would not have dug ourselves out of the hole, but this year we will.”
Witman scored back-to-back three pointers with less than two minutes remaining in the game, pushing the lead back up to eight points for the Wildcats. Witman then completed 4-of-4 throws in the game’s final seconds.
Villanova did exceptionally well always finding Witman on the court.
LaSalle had to foul Witman, an exceptional free throw shooter, in order to be back on offense, but Witman made her shots at the charity strip.
“It was a team effort tonight, with getting passes and getting one more rebound and helping on defense,” said Witman. “My numbers might have shown on the board, but it was team effort, especially on defense.”
Witman went 6-for-6 from the line in the game, hit five three-point baskets, and added a team-high seven rebounds. Witman was the only player to score in double figures. For her first time playing as a Wildcat, Kurz (Lower Gwynedd, Pa.) contributed nine points. Kruz, starting junior forward, transferred from Duke University. Struggling with injuries at Duke, this was Kruz first big game as a starter in four years.
Kurz, along with her teammate Witman, look in shape and have more of an athletic build in comparison to their competition.
Kurz just has more nerves with her game right, especially with her shooting, because she is coming off of consecutive seasons of injuries.
“This is her first game when what she does is going to affect the outcome of the game,” said Perretta. “Now she is in a pressured situation and its been four years since then. At Duke, she was not in a pressured situation. She has to work her way back in.”
“I missed a lot of shots I should have made,” said Kurz “I am a little disappointed in how I played, but we won and that is the most important thing. It was a big win for us. They are a good team and it is tough to win on the road against LaSalle."
Witman was the only Villanova player to score in double figures. Perretta wants his players to be constantly shooting and taking advantage of those open looks not just for practice, but for the win.
“Laura, Lisa [Karcic], and Stacie are our three primary scorers,” said Perretta. “When they get shots, they cannot pass them up, especially Stacie because she is playing well in the beginning of the season. One time she did not shoot the ball, she turned it over. I told her I would rather her shoot it because if she goes 1-for-5 that is still three points. If she hesitates and doesn’t shoot, we might not win the game.”
Next Big 5 game for Villanova is a home game on Dec. 1 against Penn followed by another home against Saint Joseph’s on Dec. 5.