Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Women of Villanova

Over this weekend I have been enthralled by women of the Big East, sixteen teams battling it out for the league championship. It started with a close game between University of South Florida and Pittsburgh, in which the latter prevailed by 3 points. Syracuse and West Virginia both won games they were expected to win, leaving only Providence and Villanova to battle it out.

Both teams came in with losing records. During warmups, the Friars appeared quicker than Villanova, even if smaller as a team, which could explain why the Friars had bested the Wildcats in their last four meetings. Even the Battle of the Bands did not bode well; the Wildcats had a meek sound which could not be heard so well over the din. Providence, in contrast, had a big sound, but on closer inspection I noticed an old ringer in the trumpet section. [During one number later in the game when he was missing, the band wasn't nearly as good.]

Sure enough, Villanova spotted Providence 13 points in the opening two minutes. A look at the scoreboard over the course of the first half showed the Wildcats down by 3 to 5 baskets most of the way. Coach Harry Perretta was yelling at the players constantly; on the court, on the bench. As he wildly gesticulated to anyone who cared to listen -- no coat, no tie, arms flailing, right hand contorted -- those of us in the stands could hear every word. He apeared to be a man not in control of his team. By contrast, Providence Coach Seymore was a model of restraint and elegance.

After halftime, the Wildcats continued their pattern of occasional brilliance, bringing them ever closer, followed by turnovers or missed layups. Also hard to watch were the three-point attempts taken from Dreamland, with little chance for success. Clearly much was expected of forward Megan Pearson, who seemed uncomfortable with the dribble. Emily Suhey was more accurate from around the key than beyond it. Center Heather Scanlon was not so effective against the quicker Friars.

But then the young guard Devon Kane took over the game. She frequently looked over to Coach Perretta for guidance, and he grew calmer, deferring to his able assistants. And with just over two minutes to play, the score was tied, and the place rocked. Over and over again, Kane found forward Laura Sweeney under the basket. By overtime, the momentum had clearly shifted, and Villanova took control and kept it. The Big East tournament had its first upset.

On the concourse after the game, I met a petite Villanova fan who looked like she'd just seen a ghost. She was Laura Sweeney's mother, and from the look on her face you'd never know that her daughter had scored a game high 21 points. (It wasn't until I met the father that I could tell where Miss Sweeney got her 6-2 inch slender frame.) They were resigned to staying in Hartford for another evening, as the Wildcats would face a much tougher Louisville team the following night.

Later that evening, as I walked my dogs in downtown Hartford, the streets and bars were abuzz with activity. I congratulated some Villanova players in front of the XL center. As I rounded the corner at Church and Trumbull, there was Coach Perretta: oblivious of the cold night air in his shirtsleeves, arms still flailing this way and that, holding court with anyone who would listen. I yelled my congratulations to him across the street. Without missing a beat, he waved back. He was still talking.