With 2.5 seconds left in a tie game, Kemba Walker ended Villanova’s winning streak at 11 games, resulting in the Wildcats’ first Big East loss of the season. On the bright side, I’m still a perfect 18-0 in my preseason predictions. If only I had followed through and done some sports betting before the season... Maybe I have some kind of supernatural psychic power, and I doomed Nova by predicting them to lose to the Huskies. In that case, is it too late to change my prediction for the Syracuse game this Saturday?
Also on the bright side, Corey Fisher outscored fellow Bronx native Kemba Walker 28-24. The 28 points were a season-high for Fisher, who also dished out 6 assists. Fisher had an impressive performance in the comeback-win over Maryland as well, when he scored 8 of his 17 points during a 19-0 Villanova run late in the game. When you throw out the inflated early season statistics and focus on conference play, Fisher is right there with Walker in the running for Big East Player of the Year, which is another preseason prediction that I’d gladly be wrong about.
Unfortunately, Nova did lose the game, so there is inevitably a dark side. I knew Corey Stokes’ out of this world shooting would eventually fall back to earth, but I never foresaw a slump this bad. Nova was able to overcome his 4-14 FG and 1-7 3PT shooting day against Maryland, but Stokes’ 0-6 shooting day proved costly in a tight game against UConn. Even the best of shooters are prone to the occasional slump, so Stokes just needs to stay confident in his stroke and shoot his way out of it.
Maalik Wayns was instrumental in the Maryland comeback, scoring 22 points, hitting 7 of 10 field goals and 7 of 9 free throws. Wayns is at his best when he drives to the basket and draws fouls like his mentor Kyle Lowry. However, he only earned one trip to the line against the Huskies and missed all four of his 3-point attempts. Speaking of Lowry, he has remained the Rockets’ starting point guard even after Aaron Brooks returned from injury, and his play hasn’t suffered any drop-off. Lowry tied his season-high with 28 points last week against Chris Paul and the Hornets.
Antonio Pena had 14 points and 10 rebounds against Maryland, his first double-double since December 3, but don’t let that stat fool you. Pena, averaging about 10 points and 7 rebounds, is quietly having a super super-senior season (say that five times fast) for Nova. He had a modest 8 points and 5 rebounds in the loss to UConn, but the more important stat is the 38 minutes that he played in the game (and 39 minutes vs. Maryland). Throughout his career, Pena’s fatal flaw was always his inability to stay on the floor due to foul trouble, but he’s done a fantastic job at avoiding stupid fouls this season. Pena is yet to be disqualified from a game this season after fouling out eight times in 2009-2010. It helps that he is playing alongside a legitimate center in Mouphtaou Yarou, but you can tell that the 24-year-old Pena has grown wiser with his years.
Yarou’s scoring has been sporadic this season, following up his season-high 18 points versus Louisville with 3 points versus Maryland then 8 points versus UConn. However, Mouph must be watching Kevin Love game tape because his rebounding has stayed consistent, grabbing double-digit boards in three straight games. And Yarou must have shared that tape with Isaiah Armwood before the Maryland game because he went on to record a career-high 13 rebounds. Maybe Armwood had some extra motivation playing against his home-state school. Jay Wright has had to lean on Armwood and freshman James Bell more than usual these past two games because of the knee injury that Dominic Cheek suffered against Maryland. The outcome of the UConn game likely would have been a little different if Cheek, a sixth man of the year candidate, was available. Fortunately, the injury isn’t serious, and Cheek should be back soon.
Before I close, one more note for the bright side... At least the 33rd overall pick in the 2009 draft, Dante Cunningham, is having a better NBA career than the 2nd overall pick, Hasheem Thabeet.