Philadelphia is a basketball city. Yes, I know there's the E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES and the Flyers. Then there's the Phillies and the Union and finally the 76ers. The other sports may dominate the headlines and the sports bars, but basketball is where it's at. We are full of great basketball programs; Drexel, La Salle, Penn, St. Joes, and Temple. The teams are coached by veterens of Philly basketball. Traffic permitting, each is within a 20 minute drive of the other and the greatest distance between any two is only 6 miles. Hell, Penn and Drexel are less than a mile from another. In what other place can you find so many great DI programs so close to each one another?
There's also Villanova.
Villanova, ostensibly part of the Big 5 (a yearly Philadelphia hoops tradition pitting all the city schools, minus Drexel, in a round robin tournament), is nearby as well. I'd hasten to point out that they aren't really in the city of Philadelphia, but whatever. They sport a head coach that has won the "Best Dressed" award two years running (Penn's Jerome Allen might have some words about that) and compete above the Red Line in the Big East. These Big 5 games used to always be played at the Palestra, but as time has gone on that tradition has faded and it's Penn's turn to hit the road and visit Villanova.
Back in 2007, I had made the trip to see Penn play at Villanova. The assigned Penn seats were way up in the nosebleeds. I mean, way up. Crushed up there in the corner with the Penn Band, it was difficult to get a full view of the court. You could not see the top of the backboard across the court, and there was a small scoreboard installed just for us since we couldn't see any of the other boards littered across the arena. I mentally named it the Pityboard. The acoustics of our section amplified the noise of our cheers and that of the band. We were raucous. At the same time, the acoustics of the section also probably kept any noise from escaping down to the court. After watching that game in 2007 I decided that if I were king of the Palestra for a day, and if the Palestra actually had a bad seat in the house, that's where I'd want the Nova section to sit when they came to play. I had told myself I wouldn't return and subject myself to this arena again.
Yet, this season has been different so far for Penn. The Quakers have been flirting with a winning record all season, Zack Rosen has played out of his mind, and the team has been playing with much more confidence. I figured maybe this would be the time Penn would break through and top the Wildcats for the first time since 2002 and I decided to break my boycott of Villanova and attend the game. The section reserved for Penn hadn't changed one bit. We were still jammed up in the corner and still couldn't see the court clearly. The Penn band, however, was still awesome.
Despite the early success for the Quakers on this young season, the game played out like so many games of the past two seasons. Penn spotted its opposition a lead early, went into the half down 18, and fought valiantly in the second half cutting the deficit to four late, only to run out of time and lose by a more respectable eight. Despite the loss, I left optimistic about the rest of the season. This team seems different than the ones of the last two seasons and I can't wait to see what happens next.
at VILLANOVA 73, PENNSYLVANIA 65 12/03/2011
PENNSYLVANIA 4-5 (0-0) -- Z. Rosen 6-11 6-7 21; T. Bernardini 5-13 1-2 13; M. Cartwright 4-7 3-3 12; R. Belcore 1-6 0-0 2; M. Kukoc 3-9 0-0 7; H. Brooks 2-3 0-0 4; F. Dougherty 0-1 0-0 0; C. Gunter 3-4 0-0 6; M. Howlett 0-0 0-0 0; C. Crocker 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 24-55 10-13 65. VILLANOVA 5-2 (0-0) -- D. Cheek 3-11 0-0 7; D. Hilliard 5-9 1-1 13; M. Yarou 6-13 9-12 21; M. Wayns 2-4 6-6 11; J. Pinkston 1-3 1-4 3; A. Yacoubou 1-6 0-0 3; J. Bell 2-5 4-4 9; T. Johnson 2-4 1-2 6. Totals 22-55 22-29 73.
Three-point goals: PENN 7-22 (T. Bernardini 2-7; R. Belcore 0-3; Z. Rosen 3-4; M. Cartwright 1-2; M. Kukoc 1-6), NOVA 7-23 (D. Cheek 1-8; M. Wayns 1-2; J. Bell 1-4; D. Hilliard 2-4; T. Johnson 1-1; A. Yacoubou 1-4); Rebounds: PENN 27 (T. Bernardini 6), NOVA 35 (M. Yarou 11); Assists: PENN 11 (M. Cartwright 4), NOVA 14 (M. Wayns 3); Total Fouls -- PENN 27, NOVA 18; Fouled Out: PENN-None; NOVA-None.