St. Joe's dominates Villanova

February 4, 2008 8:53:15 PM PST
Villanova's reign as the best in the Big 5 ended with a thud.

The Wildcats' string of three straight NCAA tournaments is the next streak in jeopardy. With the way they've played during a five-game losing streak, another shot at March Madness is fading.

It's a tourney spot Saint Joseph's would love to fill.

Rob Ferguson and Pat Calathes each scored 20 points to lead the Hawks to a 77-55 win over Villanova on Monday night, the slumping Wildcats' fifth straight loss.

"My team is better than Villanova right now," said Hawks coach Phil Martelli, "but their program is the pre-eminent program in Philadelphia and I'm not ashamed to say that."

With the way the Hawks are rolling, that might not be the case the rest of this season.

The streaking Hawks (15-5) won their sixth straight game and handed Villanova its first Big 5 loss since December 2004. The Wildcats (13-8) had won their last 14 city series games.

"That certainly wasn't a Big 5 classic," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We did not play well, but I think Saint Joseph's was just great."

Villanova's three-year run of NCAA tournament berths appears to be in trouble, unless it can rediscover a shooting touch and a defensive determination that have been missing since December.

The Wildcats have their first five-game losing streak since the end of the 2003-04 season, which was also their last trip to the NIT. They might not even qualify for the Big East tournament. The bottom four teams don't make it, and only three other teams have a worse record.

Scottie Reynolds led Villanova with 12 points.

Up next for the Hawks are two road games, including Sunday at No. 13 Xavier, where a win would strengthen their quest to become the team to beat in the Atlantic 10. The Hawks are thinking about their first trip to the tourney in four years and Saint Joseph's has at least put itself in consideration for an at-large bid.

"I don't see how we couldn't be (in) at this point," Calathes said. "Hopefully we start getting some national credit."

Darrin Govens hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 points for the Hawks.

The city series rivalry at the famed Palestra counted as a home game for the Hawks, and students were lined up outside the gym more than four hours before tip. Fans stuffed the aisles and Villanova opened the game shooting into a crimson backdrop of SJU student supporters.

Once the Hawks got hot, the pro-SJU crowd was rocking.

The Hawks went on a 23-4 run late in the first half that got the blowout started. Govens jump-started the run with a 3-pointer and the Hawks added to the lead with a string of free throws. Ferguson sank a 3 that made it 35-20 heading into a Villanova timeout. The raucous chant of "Let's Go Saint Joe's!" was the only sound heard inside the arena. When the Hawks came out of the break, Calathes hit a 3 that seemingly ended the game.

This rivalry was a regular on national television until this season, partly because the games stopped being competitive. Only this time, it was SJU blowing out the Wildcats.

"I know it looks bad, but it's not as bad as it looks," Wright said.

The Wildcats looked hopeless at times against the veteran Hawks. While the Wildcats don't have a senior on their roster, the Hawks have two 1,000-point scorers in Calathes and Ferguson.

"It was older against younger in a remarkable atmosphere," Martelli said.

The 3-point shooting that Wright relied on to mold the Wildcats into Big East contenders has vanished (24 percent vs. SJU). They've been uncharacteristically sloppy (17 turnovers) and Wright has complained that if his young team isn't making shots, they're not focused on defense.

Wright refused to pin the loss on inexperienced players.

"I think that's some of it, but there are other young teams that are good around the country," he said.

Few teams could have stopped the Hawks, who received votes in The Associated Press college basketball poll, at the stuffed and steamy Palestra. Ferguson hit consecutive 3s early in the second for a 56-29 lead. Calathes scored on a driving layup late in the half for a 75-44 lead, Saint Joe's largest of the game.

"We're definitely playing the best ball we've played so far," Calathes said.