(Sports Network) - A pair of undefeated teams meet up in the semifinal round of the NIT Season Tip Off in New York City this evening, as the seventh-ranked Villanova Wildcats and UCLA Bruins clash at famed Madison Square Garden. The winner of this game will move on to face either VCU or Tennessee for the tournament title on Friday.
Ben Howland's Bruins have made light work of the competition thus far, winning all three of their games by double figures, including knocking off Pepperdine (79-69) and Pacific (57-44) at home to advance to the Big Apple for this week's action.
Jay Wright's Wildcats have looked equally impressive, in not more so, in their routs of their four foes to begin the season. Villanova opened the new campaign with a 68-52 win over Bucknell, followed by NIT victories over Marist (84-47) and Boston University (82-66). The team squeezed in another game at home this past weekend in preparation for this event, crushing Lafayette, 86-41.
This series is all knotted at two games apiece. UCLA claimed the first two meetings, but Villanova has won the last two, including an 89-70 decision in the second-round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins overcame a poor second half of shooting and held on to defeat Pacific last time out by 13 points. UCLA shot a mere 35 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes of the game, but Pacific was just 25 percent accurate over the entire 40 minutes. Reeves Nelson had a huge game to lead the Bruins to victory, tying his career-high with 21 points, while grabbing 14 rebounds. Fellow forward Tyler Honeycutt also came up big in the paint, with 15 points and 15 boards. Despite the two performances on the glass, UCLA was actually outrebounded by the Tigers, 39-38. The Bruins have not shown themselves to be an offensive juggernaut in the early going, averaging a modest 73.0 ppg, despite shooting .522 from the field overall. Where the team has dominated is defensively, limiting foes to just 54.3 ppg, while forcing just over 17 turnovers per outing. Nelson has been a beast up front, averaging a near double-double with team-highs of 19.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Honeycutt has been dominant as well at 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per outing. Guard Lazeric Jones (12.3 ppg) provides some backcourt balance, but there is little scoring depth after him.
Villanova has shown the ability to both fill up the basket and keep its opponents from doing the same in the early stages of the season. The team boasts of a +28.5 scoring margin, averaging 80 points per game on .482 shooting, while holding foes to just 51.5 ppg and .316 shooting accuracy. The team has been extremely efficient, amassing 76 assists thus far, while committing just 39 turnovers. The guard play is what fuels the Villanova attack, as the trio of Corey Fisher (16.5 ppg), Maalik Wayns (13.5 ppg, 7.0 apg) and Corey Stokes (12.5 ppg) is tough to contend with. The three guards have combined for 21 of the team's 25 three-pointers to date, with Stokes' 11 leading the way. Antonio Pena (10.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Mouphtaou Yarou (9.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) round out the starting five with solid play up front. Villanova made light work of Lafayette last time out, shooting .507 from the floor, doling out 22 assists and turning the ball over just 11 times. All five starters notched double figures and six Wildcats in all, led by Stokes' 19 points. Fisher poured in 16, followed by Pena (12), Yarou (12), Maurice Sutton (11) and Wayns (10).
Both teams can play tight defense, but Villanova's ability to play mistake- free basketball and the team's offensive capabilities push this one in the Wildcats' favor.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Madison Square Garden (19,763) -- New York, New York. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: UCLA 3-0, Villanova 4-0. Away Record: UCLA 0-0, Villanova 0-0. Neutral Record: UCLA 0-0, Villanova 0-0. Conference Record: UCLA 0-0, Villanova 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 2-2.
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