Final Score: #3 Villanova 80, #14 American 67
Players of the Game: Dante Cunningham - 25 points, 7 reb
Dwayne Anderson - 25 pts, 8 reb
Recap: Well, I guess that's why they call it March Madness. American looked the part of Cinderella in the first half, as sharpshooter Garrison Carr (22 points, 6-14 3-PT) led his Eagles to a 10 point halftime lead. Nova played right into their hands by making it a 3-point shootout early on. If Villanova learned anything from their games against Marquette and Louisville in the Big East Tournament, it was to save their best basketball for the second half. When Nova was trailing by 14 with about 18 minutes left, I feared the worst, but in the back of my mind I remembered those second half collapses we had in the Big East Tournament. If they could do it to us, surely we could mount a comeback against the lowly14th-seeded American Eagles. In the second half it finally clicked to the Wildcat players that they were bigger, faster, and stronger, and therefore, American could not stop them inside. Nova attacked the basket and got to the free throw line at will, and also turned up the pressure defensively. It was a wild roller coaster ride of a game, but ultimately the glass slipper did not fit this Cinderella.
American's small frontline had no answer for Dante Cunningham, and his line proves it: 25 points, 9-16 FG, 7-7 FT, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists. My only criticism is that he settled for a few too many jumpers. I mean, Dante had two slow white guys guarding him in the post. Don't get me wrong, Brian Gilmore is a smart player and I loved his effort (16 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast), but he's not exactly the second coming of Bill Russell on the defensive post. It's not often that Villanova has the size advantage in a game, so when they do, Dante needs to take advantage of it.
In what seems to be a NCAA Tournament tradition, Dante was sporting a new design shaved into his head. Here's a shot of last year's 'do in the Sweet 16 game vs. Kansas and last night's game vs. American.
Dwayne Anderson played out of his mind. You can tell how much this means to him and his fellow senior and childhood friend, Dante Cunningham. He came out firing from long range and couldn't miss. He was the only Wildcat that could compete in a shootout... he only missed one shot the entire night (9-10 FG, 4-5 3-PT) to score his career-high 25 points.
Corey Fisher fell victim to the allure of the 3-point shot early in the game, but then went back to his schoolyard roots by driving to the basket in the second half. That's the highlight of Fisher's game, and his clutch free throw shooting played a major role in Villanova's comeback. He scored 9 of his 11 points from the stripe, and he added 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.
Scottie Reynolds looked half asleep in the first half. This had the look of one of those classic games where Reynolds was shut down and Nova had no chance. He had 4 turnovers and only 2 assists. Scottie stepped it up slightly in the second half to score 8 points, but he was able to rely on his teammates for the scoring on a night when he wasn't feeling it. In years past Villanova couldn't win without a big night from Reynolds (see Kansas in last year's Tournament), but the improvements of players like Cunningham, Fisher, Anderson, Redding, and Stokes are what makes this years team capable of making a deeper run in the tournament.
Rounding out the box score:
Reggie Redding attempted three 3-pointers in a game for the first time in over a month. He made one, but that's not his game, he's much better driving to the basket. Nova's defensive stopper had an impressive 4 blocks in the game.
Corey Stokes attempted 5 threes, but only made one to score five points. I have a feeling he will have a better shooting night in the second round. He also contributed in other areas with 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block.
Shane Clark had 2 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds (2 offensive) in 19 minutes.
Antonio Pena did not play. I'm surprised Jay Wright didn't use Pena to exploit American's size disadvantage.