'nova Opens With Romp

Posted: December 02, 1993

Now that Villanova's basketball season officially is under way, it should be noted that the Wildcats, at 1-0, are undefeated and North Carolina, Indiana and Georgetown are not.

Last night's 94-62 rout of outmanned American University at duPont Pavilion might not mean much a bit deeper into the schedule, but do not fault the young 'Cats and second-year coach Steve Lappas for feeling good about themselves at this very early juncture. Considering the immediate past (two preseason exhibition losses by a combined margin of 38 points) and what lies just ahead (Saturday's Big East Conference opener against No. 25 Georgetown in Landover, Md.) . . . well, bits and pieces of optimism are where you find them.

"There's no way I can simulate that experience (of playing against a team of Georgetown's stature) between now and Saturday," Lappas said. "I can't do that. Our kids are not going to know what it's like until they go out there and the game is moving at a little bit faster pace than this one moved at.

"When you have as many young players as we do, you really have nothing to compare this game against. But, all in all, I feel a little bit better than I did. I thought we did a great job defensively, and our (offensive) execution was pretty decent. This team has some athletic ability."

Sophomore shooting guard Kerry Kittles, with 20 points, led a balanced Villanova attack that saw six players score in double figures. The Wildcats shot 54.2 (32-for-59) from the field, including nine of 12 three-pointers, outrebounded the Eagles (1-1) by a 45-31 margin and blocked nine shots, including four by heralded, 6-11 freshman center Jason Lawson. After sprinting to a 46-20 lead at intermission, Villanova more or less was on cruise control throughout a meaningless second half. The 'Cats might have cracked the 100- point barrier for the first time since a 102-74 blowout of Providence in the 17th game of the 1989-90 season had Lappas not emptied his bench with about three minutes remaining.

"It's real important for us to get a win under our belts, to have that winning feeling," said junior lead guard Jonathan Haynes, who contributed 11 points, four assists and three steals. "The rest of them aren't going to be this easy."

Haynes should know. A year ago, when Villanova finished 8-19, the Wildcats won four early games against Vermont, Lehigh, Columbia and Syracuse by a combined margin of 98 points, then proceeded to lose seven straight.

That lack of success, plus a roster that includes five freshmen and five sophomores, most of whom played little last season, is reason enough why Villanova was picked 10th and last in the Big East this time around.

The byproduct of inexperience is inconsistency, which is why Lappas said ''it's going to be up to me to know when they'll need patting on the back and hammering." But for all the ups and downs Lappas figures to encounter along the way, it should be kind of a fun ride.

The pivotal figure, in more ways than one, is Lawson, from Olney High, who is being counted on to contribute more than rebounding and interior defense to a team that lacked much of an offensive presence in the low blocks last season.

It might have seemed a small thing to the 4,500 or so spectators at the time, but Lappas attached considerable significance to the first basket of Lawson's collegiate career, a little turnaround jumper less than four minutes into the first half.

"I liked the way Jason scored with post moves, with his back to the basket," Lappas said. "He didn't just score on offensive rebounds and dunks."

If Lawson can develop into a steady double-figure scorer, and proves to be as effective a passer out of the post as Lappas believes he can be, the Wildcats might be able to compensate for a lack of physicality in the ultraphysical Big East.

"There are going to be times when we go very small - four midgets and Jason Lawson," Lappas said.

Lappas's best-case scenario has Lawson swiftly developing into the kind of player who can hold his own with such quality big men as Georgetown's Othella Harrington and Boston College's Bill Curley. On one trip down the floor he'll go strong to the hoop himself; on the next, he'll accept the entry pass and redirect it to an open shooter along the perimeter.

"People are going to have to double down on him and he can kick it out," Lappas said of Lawson. "A lot of big kids can't do that."

It's easier to do, of course, when you're going against a team like American, which features no starter over 6-8 and also comes up short in other ways. The Eagles, who were drubbed by George Washington in their opener, 85-50, might have been pounded even worse were it not for forward Tim Fudd, a wascally wabbit who led all scorers with 24 points.

Kittles, who could be headed to a monster season, is a known commodity, so his assortment of acrobatic drives wasn't anything the crowd hadn't seen before. But the numbers posted by Roscoe Harris (17 points) and Eric Eberz and Alvin Williams (12 apiece) were revealing.

If 6-8 freshman Arthur Quarterman, the projected starting power forward who missed last night's game with a bone bruise of the right shin, is able to play against Georgetown, Lappas could get a more accurate read on where his team is and how far it needs to go.

"Expect a war," Haynes promised.

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