Lafayette-Villanova Preview

BY foxsports • November 19, 2010

The last time Villanova and Lafayette met, the Wildcats' season ended in the NIT and the Leopards received an NCAA tournament berth.

While Lafayette hasn't been back to the NCAAs since, Villanova is a regular in the postseason tournament and is considered one of the favorites to win the title this spring.

The sixth-ranked Wildcats look to win their 41st straight game at The Pavilion on Saturday night when they face the Leopards for the first time in more than a decade.

Separated by just over 60 miles, Villanova (3-0) and Lafayette haven't played since the Wildcats' 74-70 win Nov. 23, 1999. At that time, both schools were at similar levels of competitiveness, but since Jay Wright took over at Villanova in 2001, the Wildcats have emerged as one of the nation's top programs.

Wright has led Villanova to four regional semifinal appearances, two regional final berths and one trip to the Final Four. His team is off to another impressive start, winning its first three games by an average of 23.0 points.

The Wildcats were never seriously challenged in Wednesday's 82-66 victory over Boston University in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off, their 40th straight win at The Pavilion. Villanova jumped out to a 17-point first-half lead and finished the game shooting 55.2 percent from the field despite missing 11 of 12 from beyond the arc.

Senior forward Antonio Pena led the way with 17 points, two shy of a career high, on 7-of-9 shooting, while preseason all-Big East guard Corey Fisher scored 16 and Maalik Wayns added 12 with 12 assists.

Pena also grabbed eight rebounds as part of a strong frontcourt performance by Villanova, an encouraging sign for a squad known more for its 3-point shooting.

"We're more of a traditional team than we've ever been," Wright said. "It's fun. We've got an inside game and obviously we've got guards. We've learned how to read it and take advantage of the inside game."

The Wildcats advanced to face UCLA in the semifinals of the tournament Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, but first look to spoil the homecoming for Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon, a 1970 graduate of Villanova.

O'Hanlon, inducted into Villanova's Hall of Fame in 1992, has coached the Leopards since 1995-96 and led them to consecutive NCAA tournament berths in 1999 and 2000. Lafayette hasn't appeared in either the NCAA or NIT tournament since, and last season's 19-13 finish marked the school's first winning record since 2003-04.

The Leopards (1-2) earned their first victory of this season Wednesday, defeating St. Francis (Pa.) 72-68. Ryan Willen finished with 26 points, becoming the third Lafayette player in as many games to lead the team in scoring.

Building on that victory seems unlikely for the Leopards, who haven't defeated a ranked opponent since a 77-70 victory over Rutgers in 1978.

Lafayette has lost five straight to Villanova since winning the first meeting in 1922 by forfeit.