Game 012:Temple 53, Villanova 52 Saturday, December 4, 2004 The Palestra - Philadelphia, PA
My Uncle Pete is about as cool as the side of the pillow that's directly under some sweaty guy's butt. A while ago, I heard him use the phrase "jump the shark" while referring to Penn State football. I hope that this finally makes it official - references to Fonzie and waterskiing vis a vis sharp and sudden declines in quality are now off limits.
It's just as well, anyway - I always thought that the actual moment when the ideas are truly all exhausted is when someone says, "Hey, let's have them switch brains."
You know how it goes - they set up the two beds with the wired-up colanders over the headrests. Then the zoomed-in camera captures the big switch with the handle being thrust dramatically downward, and there are big buzzing sounds and explosions. Well, that's how they did it in the old days, anyway. Modern role reversals are generally done in a more high-concept style - magical fortune cookies, an ancient Oriental skull, a mysterious potion, Or, in Seinfeld's case, switched apartments was all it took.
I'm not saying that transfusion transformations are without their practical uses... there's a time and place for stuff like that. Take college basketball, for instance. It struck me yesterday afternoon that Temple and Villanova are excellent candidates for one of those vice-versa switcheroo thingies.
The Owls and Wilcats maintain the most evenly-matched, fiercest and most bitter rivalry in the city right now. I attended their annual Big Five matchup last year, which was played on the first calendar date that the NCAA allowed non-exempt games to be played. And it was played at 12:01 a.m., due to Nova's departure out towards the Maui Invitational later that day. The Liacouras Center, the only Big Five venue that serves alcohol, was a frothy fight-happy mess once the clock struck two, and the game was delayed twice due to glass bottles thrown onto the floor.
But if these two teams would just look past their differences, perhaps they would realize that they could help each other out. There's Temple, who competes in the small, quick guard-rich Atlantic 10 conference. This year, with the loss of their scoring leader David Hawkins, they find themselves with a strong, bulky set of bodies - a lineup that substitutes a lack of mobility with big-time physical punishment. Then there's size-challenged Villanova, who will go into the rough and tough Big East next month with a three-guard lineup. Both teams are likely to be well-toasted, then served with jam for good measure. So why not try a transfusion... of talent?
Saturday afternoon at the Palestra would have been the natural place to get it done. I imagine the dank and dingy corridors beneath the floor of that ancient building would make for perfect atmosphere, all flickering lights and distant thunder and John Chaney laughing maniacally.
Instead of indulging my half-baked horror film idea, the two teams opted to engage in a hard, muddy slog once the Big Five Classic's middle game tipped off. Nova kept the ball on the perimeter, afraid to go inside against the WWF bodies of Keith Butler and Wayne Marshall in this year's puzzlingly pylon-like version of the matchup zone. They were unable to find success shooting over it, as Auburn and Arizona State had earlier in the season, and Butler's dramatic rip-away rebounds became a recurring sight. For Temple's part, they were unable to run their slow-motion offense in the face of the Wildcats' stingy guard play. The first half ended with Temple leading by 24-23, on the basis of a slight 32%-28% shooting advantage.
The second half was more of the same. Temple delivered the first true body blow with fifteen to go with a 6-0 run highlighted by a Butler dunk. Villanova punched back with a 9-0 spurt keyed by athletic 6-7 junior Curtis Sumpter. With the teams deadlocked going into the final five minutes of the game, a classic "Palestra Pandemonium" ending was assured, one which would all but erase the ultimately forgettable previous 35 in the minds of the paying public.
Mardy Collins, a muscular 6-6 point guard who's a natural wing, responded to Chaney's in-your-face yelling (for running the Owls into three 35-second clock violations) by stepping up and taking the reins firmly in hand. He did it on both ends in the final few minutes, getting up high to block a dunk by 6-10 Jason Fraser and dropping a three and a two with perfect swishes.
Finally, the deathblow was delivered by Dustin Salisbery, the 6-5 sophomore who comes off the bench despite being the team's only natural shooter. A three-pointer with 1:08 to go in the game - set up by Collins - was all the scoring the Owls would need: it was 53-50. The 'Cats pushed hard and fast in the last 60 seconds, but they were only able to score on two Sumpter free throws. Sumpter heaved a last-second three, which fell short... Temple had survived the blast furnace and won a hard-fought Big Five game.
Outside shooting was atrocious all afternoon, and the final numbers were a freakshow: Nova pointman Mike Nardi went 2 for 12, and normally dead-on teammate Allan Ray went 4 for 15. Temple's Collins went 5 for 15, and new arrival Mark Tyndale chipped in with an equally unimpressive 4 for 13 performace. Big Owl Butler was somehow not more involved in the offense, and went 3-for-3... all thunderous dunks.
John Chaney waxed philosophical about the freaky ending and the spooky old barn it occurred in. "Nobody dies a natural death in this place," he told the AP after the game. "It is always an unusual one."