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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Villanova’s fab four guards take tournament by storm

    The Villanova Wildcats weren’t supposed to be this good.

    In a conference dominated by big men and low-post play, Villanova stands at odds with conventional wisdom, putting four guards on the floor that stand no taller than 6 feet 4 inches.

    The style of play drew the attention of plenty of critics, but more than 20 wins later and a No. 1 seed in the big dance has helped silence those same critics.

    And while the team’s size might resemble that of a high school team, these aren’t your high school state champions – they are an NCAA championship contender.

    Six-foot-8 inch junior forward Will Sheridan, a behemoth among the starters, is the man in the middle, but would likely play a small forward position for Arizona.

    When a reporter asked senior guard Randy Foye whether he thought junior guard Mike Nardi could ever be a player because of his size, Foye scoffed saying, “”well he’s not that small.””

    Villanova head coach Jay Wright had to make due however, with senior forward Curtis Sumpter, the team’s leading scorer last season, out for the year with a torn ACL in his left knee.

    Senior forward Jason Fraser, who stands six feet-nine inches, fell out of Wright’s good graces and now comes off the bench.

    “”We didn’t have much of a choice,”” Wright said. “”We had a lot of injuries. I thought we’d play with it until we got healthy…I still question it every day.””

    Instead of getting dominated inside, Villanova’s quartet of superb guards has out-rebounded, out-blocked, and outplayed their taller counterparts.

    “”Villanova’s kids are very tough, very physical, and they’re able to deal with people on the boards, and that’s the thing you have to have if you’re going to play four guards,”” Arizona head coach Lute Olson said.

    Foye, at 6 foot 4 inches, has been the team’s power forward and leading scorer, and will likely face 6 foot 10 inch Ivan Radenovic when Arizona and Villanova meet Sunday.

    “”We’ve done it all year,”” said Foye of having to guard taller opponents.

    The four guards, Foye, senior Allan Ray, junior Mike Nardi, and sophomore Kyle Lowry pose match up problems because of their ability to penetrate against slower defenders while also being able to shoot from beyond the arc when defenders back off.

    It’s a match up difficulty Arizona knows all too well, considering Villanova runs the offense the Cats tried to implement at the beginning of the season.

    “”They’re running it like we wanted to run it,”” assistant coach Josh Pastner said.

    In fact, it’s the same style of game Arizona could have turned to in 1997 when the Wildcats had their own formidable foursome of guards in Mike Bibby, Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson and Jason Terry, who came off the bench.

    “”I think it worked out pretty well with three,”” Olson joked.

    Villanova isn’t the only team experimenting with the small ball style of play either. Associate head coach Jim Rosborough said Southern California is the team that most resembles Villanova’s style with Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt leading the way. The Trojans toppled Arizona early in the year, forcing the Wildcats into uncharacteristic turnovers.

    “”They all can shoot, they all can put the ball on the floor,”” Rosborough said.

    Simon, now an Arizona assistant coach, said Villanova’s style is unique because of the talent level of those four guards.

    “”USC started some small guys, but not like these four guys,”” he said.

    Nardi said the offense is tough to stop because “”most times it’s the first time teams have dealt with it.””

    The best place to adjust for Arizona may be in practice. Junior point guard Mustafa Shakur, who has played against the Villanova guards since he was 10 years old, said the Wildcats used their own guards at practice on Saturday to give them an idea of what Sunday will be like.

    “”The best thing for us is what we do in practice where we have a lot of great guards on our team and we tried to simulate that today,”” Shakur said.

    As he understands though, the type of quickness Villanova presents can only be completely appreciated in the game.

    “”You can’t simulate that all the time in practice, but against Washington and UCLA and sometimes maybe Cal will do it here and there and we can look at those games,”” Shakur said. “”But you can’t simulate what Villanova does.””

    Before Arizona won its lone title in 1997, many didn’t believe a three-guard lineup could propel a team to college basketball’s highest prize. Now that a three-guard lineup has become the norm, Villanova has taken it one step further, playing unorthodox but playing it well.

    “”I find it hard to believe that people believe we can win a national championship with four guards, because everybody asks that question,”” Wright said.

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