The Wildcats set a Big East Tournament record with 17 three-pointers. (Kristen Wendt / The Villanovan
by Angie Matarozzi
Villanova went 1-1 in the Big East Tournament, as it slayed the Georgetown Hoyas from behind the arc, and fell to Syracuse the following night.
The Wildcats broke multiple records on Saturday night, as they topped the Hoyas with a score of 89-58 in the second round of the conference tournament.
In Saturday’s game against Georgetown, ’Nova set a Big East Championship tournament record of 17 3-point shots.
Senior guard Rachel Roberts and sophomore forward Lauren Burford led the way, sinking a combined nine of the 17 triples for Villanova.
The Wildcats’ 89 points was also a Villanova school-record in a Big East Tournament game.
After the Hoyas defeated a sharp-shooting Providence team in the first round, they faced ’Nova at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
The sixth-seeded Wildcats entered the game with an impressive regular season résumé of 20-9 overall while the 11th-seeded Hoyas broke even at 15-15.
Before Saturday’s win, Villanova already had a Georgetown victory under their belt—they cruised by the Hoyas on the road in early February by shooting an impressive 38.5 percent from deep
It was another impressive show from beyond the arc for the ’Cats, but this time it was record-breaking.
Georgetown also had a record night—Sugar Rodgers, a standout senior guard for the Hoyas, scored an unprecedented 42 points in a Big East Tournament contest. Rodgers shot an incredible 50 percent from both the field and the three-point range.
The Lady Cats got hot early, opening up the game with five 3-pointers within the first five minutes of play.
Roberts hit consecutive 3-pointers for the first two buckets of the game followed by a triple from senior forward Laura Sweeny and back-to-back threes from Burford, putting the ’Cats up 17-5 at the first official television timeout.
Newly recovered from her broken hand, ’Nova freshman guard Caroline Coyer entered a game for the first time in six weeks to sink back-to-back triples and give the Wildcats a 27-5 advantage by the 12-minute mark.
This seemed to be the cue for Rodgers, who began to heat up, hitting consecutive shots from downtown and subsequently feeding to sophomore forward Brittany Horne for an easy layup.
But Rodgers’ spurt of energy was not enough to disturb ’Nova’s synchronicity, as the ’Cats collected 12 assists on 14 field goals to give them a 38-17 lead at the seven-minute mark.
Villanova shot 10-15 from the three-point line in the first half, the final triple coming from Lauren Burford with a minute and half left to play. Two free throws from junior guard Devon Kane gave ’Nova a 50-27 lead at intermission.
Both teams finished the half with excellent shooting—59.3 percent for the Wildcats and 61.1 percent for the Hoyas, with Rodgers contributing 18 of her team’s 27 points.
“They started out in zone and that’s our strength,” said head coach Harry Perretta on the ’Cats’ three-point effort in the first half.
The Wildcats remained on cruise control in the second-half and added seven more triples for a game total of 17-of-31 (54.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats began the second-half on a 15-6 run over the Hoyas to give the ’Cats a 65-33 lead with 13 minutes left to play.
A minute later, Rodgers broke through the ’Nova defense to score her 2,500th career point on a quick drive to the hoop.
Despite Rodgers’ offensive brilliance, Georgetown was unable to dent ’Nova’s decisive lead for the duration of the game.
With just 21 seconds left to play in the contest and Villanova up 89-56, Coyer sent Rodgers to the line to set her career-high and Big East tournament record of 42 points in a game.
An emotional Rodgers was congratulated by her teammates as the final buzzer sounded, giving ’Nova an easy 89-58 victory over Georgetown.
The ’Cat’s finished with Sweeney, Burford and Roberts all in double figures.
Sweeney led the pack with 17 points while Burford and Roberts finished with 15 and 13, respectively.
’Nova shot a game total of 51.8 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the free-throw line, while the Hoyas were 44.9 percent from the floor and just 61.5 percent on foul shots.
Then, the Wildcats faced the number three seed, Syracuse, in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament on Sunday night.
The Wildcats had beaten Syracuse twice this season already, including their thrilling triple overtime road win last Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
But the third time was the charm for the Orange, who ousted ’Nova 61-56 behind senior center Kayla Alexander’s 34 points and 15 rebounds.
The Wildcats entered Sunday night’s matchup without their leading scorer, Sweeney, who suffered a concussion on a flagrant foul from the previous night’s victory against Georgetown.
Sweeney scored a career-high 29 points in the Wildcat’s most recent win against the Orange, and her absence was certainly felt as ’Nova struggled to keep pace with Syracuse’s dominant presence inside the paint.
Roberts led the ’Cats from the onset of the game yet again, as she scored all of ’Nova’s eight points at the 14-minute mark on a lay-up and two triples. Her third 3-pointer of the night came with five minutes left to play in the half with Villanova trailing Syracuse 17-24.
“Limit the threes and force them to attack the paint,” was Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman’s key to beating ’Nova in the matchup.
Indeed, ’Nova shot a solid 35.7 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, yet it was nothing compared to their scorching 66.7 percent in the front end of the Georgetown matchup.
The Wildcat’s offense, which was able to outshine Georgetown’s leading scorer Rodgers in Saturday’s contest, was unable to do so against Syracuse’s center Alexander, who scored 16 of Syracuse’s 32 points by intermission.
The Wildcats trailed the Orange 23-32 at the end of the first half.
With the help of Syracuse junior guard Elashier Hall, who contributed nine points that night, Alexander widened the Orange lead to 15 by the 12:41 mark in the second half, and it looked as if ’Nova was beginning to wane from the contest.
However, sophomore guard Taylor Holeman reenergized the Wildcats off the bench, finding a sweet spot inside Syracuse’s zone with back-to-back jumpers to make the score 45-34 by the 11:30 game marker.
Coyer hit three triples in the second-half, and helped a red-hot Holeman chip away at the lead, bringing the Wildcats within two points with just two minutes left to play.
However, Syracuse was able to evade a Villanova comeback at the foul line, hitting six-for-eight free throw attempts within the last minute of play.
The Orange edged out the Wildcats with a 61-56 victory.
Holeman and Roberts tied for a team-high of 14 points followed by Coyer who scored 11.
With Sunday night’s win, Syracuse improved to 24-6 overall and 11-5 in conference play.
’Nova finished their scheduled season with a record of 21-10 overall and 9-8 in the Big East.
While the Orange advanced to the semi-finals against University of Connecticut, the Wildcats await what’s next for them in post-season play. ESPN Bracketologist Charlie Creme has the ’Cats as a No. 8 seed at the moment.