After turning season around, confident Villanova poses challenge for Syracuse at both ends of field in Big East tournament championship

first_imgVILLANOVA, Pa. — When Syracuse and Villanova first met this season at Villanova Stadium, VU was reeling. The Wildcats followed up as good a two-year stretch the program had ever experienced by losing five of their first six games in 2013. Villanova was still a talented team, but when it took the field on that chilly Saturday night, the Wildcats should have been overmatched.Somehow, things clicked. Winning 22-of-24 faceoffs certainly helped, but the offense started firing and the defense stifled the Orange in the fourth quarter. VU looked more like what the talented roster had potential to be than the 1-5 team it was at the time.“They pressure on a lot and are able to cause some turnovers and force some errant shots,” SU defender Brian Megill said. “Their offense is starting to click and you saw against us, the offense started clicking, and I think we’re the game that got them rolling.”Villanova has won six of its eight games since upsetting Syracuse to earn a spot in the Big East tournament championship against the No. 3 Orange (12-3) at noon on Saturday in Villanova Stadium. The No. 19 Wildcats’ (7-7) inexperienced defense weathered a grueling early season schedule to frustrate opponents late in the season and their offense’s secondary weapons have emerged alongside star attack Jack Rice.“They’re playing with a lot of confidence,” SU midfielder JoJo Marasco said, “they have some young guys really stepping up for them, they’re a well coached team and I think it’s given them a little spark to realize that they were a good team all year they just had a couple close games they lost that they wish they had back.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLeading the defensive turnaround is Big East defensive player of the year John LoCascio, who VU head coach Michael Corrado called “the best defenseman in the country.” The long-stick midfielder caused four turnovers and gathered four ground balls in the Wildcats’ semifinal win over Georgetown, upping his season totals to 51 and 79, respectively.Entering the season, LoCascio had made just one career start. He played in 15 games a year ago, but wasn’t counted on as a staple of VU’s defense. Chris Piccirilli, another starting defender, had never logged a start before this season. The juniors were thrown into the fire right away with five of their first six games coming against ranked opponents.“Our defense has grown up,” Corrado said after his team’s win over the Hoyas. “We have a lot of inexperienced guys, a lot of sophomores and juniors that didn’t play a lot early in their careers here are getting extended time, and it took them a while to get used to the speed of the game.”Thursday’s semifinal against GU, though, was a clinic in offensive execution. Villanova scored goals in transition and Rice shot a perfect 5-of-5 to pull within two goals of the Wildcats’ all-time goals record.Rice has scored 13 goals in his last three games, but it was midfielder John Kluh that owned Syracuse in that first game. He scored three goals for the Wildcats and has been on a tear since, with 11 goals in his last eight games. Now teams can’t just key in on Rice.“The last five or six, seven games, teams — because of Eric Gartner, because of John Kluh — have had to defend us a little bit differently and it’s opened up his game,” Corrado said.Corrado pointed to Gartner in particular as an underrated addition to the offense. The unorthodox midfielder who Corrado said doesn’t know “what he’s doing when he begins to dodge,” gives VU another source of offense.His quirky style of play helped him to a hat trick on Thursday and makes Villanova’s offense even tougher to defend.“I kind of throw the system out when Eric has the ball,” Corrado said.Six games into the year it seemed almost an impossibility that the Wildcats would be on the verge of the NCAA tournament. Yet here they stand, one win away from the Big East’s automatic berth.When head coach John Desko and the Orange stood on the field at Villanova Stadium after its March loss to VU, they fielded question after question about faceoffs. It was the reason the Wildcats won the game. VU can get it done without otherworldly performances now, though. Its execution on offense and defense has caught up to Villanova’s level of talent.Said Corrado: “We gave ourselves a great opportunity on Saturday.” Comments Published on May 3, 2013 at 6:21 pm Contact David: [email protected] | @DBWilson2 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *