No worries, better scoring for Villanova's James Bell

Villanova's James Bell takes aim on a long-range shot. The junior hit a trio of three-pointers in each of his last two games.
Villanova's James Bell takes aim on a long-range shot. The junior hit a trio of three-pointers in each of his last two games. (RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: February 21, 2013

James Bell has waited until the second half of Villanova's most recent two games before finding his shooting eye, but the Wildcats aren't complaining.

The 6-foot-6 junior swing man went scoreless in the first half against Connecticut and Rutgers. But he bounced back in the second half with 11 points in each game - including three three-point baskets both times - in helping the Wildcats to victories and keeping them in the NCAA tournament hunt.

"Coach [Jay Wright] always talks to us about having a clear head," Bell said. "I don't come into games worried about scoring. I don't come into games worried about winning or losing. I come into games worried about what we have to do as a team. Playing down the stretch with a clear head, it helps to make shots."

Bell also provided late heroics in last month's upset of No. 3 Syracuse, when he scored eight points in overtime, and knocked down a three-ball at a critical point in 'Nova's stunning win over Louisville.

Hold on a minute

Winners of four consecutive games and six of seven, La Salle is on track to earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992. But while he notes how important that would be to the Explorers' program, coach John Giannini wishes everyone would calm down.

"Very well-meaning people around the program are very excited, and they sometimes get caught up and they act as if we're going to make it for sure," Giannini said. "That is by no means the case. You've got to tune a lot of that out. You've got to stay focused on the next game.

"Sometimes that is a challenge, especially when people get excited and want to talk with you about the postseason. I often say, 'Well, listen, you don't have to guard Khalif Wyatt, you don't have to guard Scootie Randall in the post,' " Giannini said, referring to Thursday night's game at Temple in which the Explorers can clinch the City Series title outright.

Owls still on the outside

Even after last weekend's quality road win at Massachusetts, Temple still wouldn't compete in the NCAA tournament if the field were picked Tuesday, according to ESPN college basketball analyst Joe Lunardi.

Lunardi still has the Owls (17-8) among the first four teams out in his updated Bracketology blog post. He dropped Temple out of the tourney field after Thursday's setback against lowly Duquesne at the Liacouras Center.

However, he has La Salle and Villanova in the field of 68 teams. The Explorers, he thinks at the moment, would be the No. 10 seed in the West Regional and face No. 7 Nevada-Las Vegas in Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, his current prediction for the Wildcats is to get a No. 12 seed, putting them into the first-round, or "play-in," game in Dayton, Ohio, against California.

Wanting to stick around

Drexel senior guard Derrick Thomas is on a roll, playing like a senior who wants to extend his career as long as possible.

Thomas has scored in double figures in six consecutive games after scoring 11 points in Monday's 63-54 win over visiting Hofstra. In the last six games, Thomas is averaging 13.8 points.

For the season, he is averaging 8.5 points and has become a solid third scorer behind Damion Lee (16.8 ppg.) and Frantz Massenat (14.0 ppg.).

"He has been playing well, and he is a senior with five or six games left," said Drexel coach Bruiser Flint, whose team has four regular-season games remaining before the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

Free-throw precision

Penn point guard Miles Cartwright ranks 38th in free-throw shooting in the NCAA's latest statistics with a mark of 85.8 percent. That is the top free-throw percentage in the Big Five, making the Quakers junior the frontrunner for the Cy Kaselman Award that goes to the most accurate foul shooter in the city.

Cartwright, who hits free throws at a 90.3 percent pace in the Ivy League, has 987 career points and could become Penn's 38th all-time 1,000-point scorer during this weekend's road swing to Cornell and Columbia.

Seeking points

With less than a third of its Atlantic Ten season remaining, St. Joseph's continues to try to find offensive consistency before the start of the conference tournament.

The Hawks have scored fewer than 70 points in eight of their 11 A-10 games and are 3-5 in those games. They are 2-1 when scoring 70 or more in the conference.

"We just haven't played good offensive basketball," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "We're a Division I team that averages 64 points a game, and in our last six games we've averaged 62 points a game. It's hard to win that way. It's really hard to win."

Owls learn how important each possession is

In his first six seasons as Temple's basketball coach, Fran Dunphy experienced a total of five games that were decided by one point.

That's nothing like the run that Dunphy and the Owls have gone through in a two-week period from Feb. 2 to last Saturday - five consecutive one-point games, the latest being an 83-82 victory at Massachusetts, Temple's third win against two losses.

Stats LLC says this is the longest run of one-point games by an NCAA Division I team since it started tracking the data during the 1996-97 season.

Dunphy said this stretch of close games shows his players how critical each and every possession is, and not necessarily just those at the end.

"As a coach, you want your team to play well each and every possession," he said. "So you're concerned about that. You just want your guys to do what they can do best.

"One of the things you tell your kids all the time is that it wasn't the last possession that decided the game. There was a possession in the first half where you had a poor shot and you had no chance of making it and the other team ran it down and got a three. That was a five- or six-point turnaround. That's what cost you the game rather than maybe the last possession."

Dunphy appears to have no interest in the historical impact of what the Owls have achieved, calling it "more of a story line that people need to report on."

"As a coach, if you win a game or lose a game by one point in the middle of the season, you're looking to move on and try to win the next game, win the next possession," he said. "So it's not something we dwell on a great deal."

- Joe Juliano

Contact Joe Juliano at Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq

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