It's dubbed the "Holy War," and the clash between Villanova and Saint Joseph's was just that.
Even though it took quite some time to become one last night.
Turnovers and poor shooting made for a sloppy affair in the first half at Philadelphia University's Gallagher Center, as both sides made a muck of a game that turned out to be anything but.
In the second half, a more-balanced team effort by Villanova and the one-two combination of the Hawks' Mariame Djouara and Brittany Ford made for a game that needed three overtime periods before the Hawks (4-3, 2-0 Big 5) could earn a 66-57 victory in a women's Big 5 matchup. Three OTs were a first in the 35th meeting between the squads.
"You can't call this anything but a gut win," Hawks coach Cindy Griffin said. "It wasn't perfect. We missed a lot of rebounds we should have had, but the intensity on defense is what saved this team tonight."
The Hawks' tough defense down the stretch showed after a steal by Villanova forward Laura Kurz was followed by a block at the basket in the waning seconds of the first overtime, allowing for a second OT with the game knotted at 50-50. The Hawks, meanwhile, had fought back to even the score after Villanova (3-4, 1-2 Big 5) held a four-point edge in the closing seconds.
Kurz - who entered averaging 15 points per game - was Villanova's go-to threat in the paint, one that the Hawks had a hard time containing as she finished with a career-high 28 points and 14 rebounds. With all that, however, Kurz took the blame for the loss.
"We are still making the same mistakes we have made all year," Kurz said. "For me especially, I continue to turn the ball over and I have offensive fouls at crucial times of the game. It's something I have been doing all year and I've been doing my whole career, and at some point it has to register. It's tough. I mean, I thought we were a more mature team and a more experienced team. We should be better."
'Nova coach Harry Perretta laid the blame on his entire squad, lambasting a poor shooting effort from the field (25-for-68). He criticized his team's ability to hit the wide-open shot, particularly shots that mattered most.
"It was the overtimes where we were getting wide-open threes and missing them," Perretta said. "It's a shot I don't know why we aren't making and I honestly can't tell you why this team isn't making those shots."
On the flip side, Djouara (32 points) and Ford (24 points) were the catalysts for Saint Joseph's, scoring all but 11 of the Hawks' 67 points. Djouara, a junior-college transfer from Owing Mills, Md., bounced in and out of the paint but blamed herself for fouling Lisa Karcic, Villanova's best free-throw shooter, with 0.9 left in the second overtime. Karcic stepped up to shoot two and made the second, allowing for yet another 5-minute period.
Djouara redeemed herself in the third overtime, making crucial foul shots to give the Hawks an eight-point lead with less than a minute remaining. In the end, not even the prayers of the Villanova faithful could disrupt what ultimately took the Hawks close to 3 hours to accomplish.
"My team has been helping me a lot with the transition and I am happy and thankful for my teammates because I couldn't do what I did tonight without them," Djouara said. "All I want is to be there for them when they need me the most." *