Women's basketball takes two to start season

Senior guard Devon Kane tallied 20 points on 13 shots this weekend in Toledo. - USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcat women took home the title at the Toledo Tournament this weekend, defeating Drexel and Mississippi Valley State in the process.

The Villanova women’s basketball team proved dominant in their opening-weekend tournament in Toledo, Ohio last weekend, defeating Mississippi Valley State 87-54 and Drexel University 63-52 en route to a tourney title.

In the opening game of the weekend against Mississippi Valley State, the ’Cats jumped out to a quick 17-2 lead on five 3-pointers within six minutes. Junior forward Lauren Burford hit two of them on her way to 18 points, which led the Wildcats. The MVSU Devilettes cut the lead to 10 at 33-23 on some quick transition layups, but that would be the closest they would get the rest of the game. Junior forward Emily Leer scored on multiple successive possessions to go into halftime with a much larger lead. Of Villanova’s 14 first-half field goals, nine were 3-pointers. Villanova tied a team record on Saturday by hitting 18 triples, nine in each half.

Mississippi Valley State nailed a few threes to get the lead down to 42-30, but redshirt sophomore guard Kendall Burton led an 8-0 Wildcat run with two 3-pointers of her own to stretch the lead to 50-30. From that point on, it was a blowout of epic proportions that sent ’Nova to the championship game the next day.

Four Wildcats scored in double digits on the day, as Burton tallied 15. Leer and senior guard Devon Kane posted 12 and 11 points, respectively. Sophomore forward Kavunaa Edwards chipped in six points and eight rebounds, and Burford added eight assists, a career-high, to her 18 points. Sophomore guard Caroline Coyer grabbed seven boards, second on the team behind Edwards.

Six players played 20 or more minutes, nine earned double-digit minutes on the floor, and all 12 non-injured players saw action. 11 of them scored, including freshman forward Megan Quinn who nailed two threes en route to nine points. Fellow freshmen Jordan Dillard, a guard from Georgia and Samantha Wilkes, a forward from Fair Lawn, also scored in their college debut.

In the later game, Drexel outlasted tourney host Toledo to earn a trip to the finals against Villanova at noon last Sunday.

The championship game provided some serious drama, as two Philly schools battled for 40 minutes in northwest Ohio. Former Villanova alum Denise Dillon, head coach of the Dragons, understands much of what Villanova Head Coach Harry Perretta has to offer on offense, and the teams’ strategies are very similar. Both believe in strong defenses (although Drexel tends to run more zone) and both work hard on offense to create open 3-point shots. This game would come down to whoever executed better on offense.

Early on, the Wildcats were dominant. After a quick layup by Drexel freshman forward Sarah Curran, they would go scoreless for the next 8:42. Villanova’s defense was suffocating, forcing star sophomore guard Megan Creighton into hurried or off-balance shots, while also keeping senior leader Fiona Flanagan off the ball for many possessions in a row. Creighton finished the day shooting 1-8 and 0-6 from beyond the arc. Creighton and Flanagan both played all 40 minutes, and Creighton tallied four assists and three steals to go with four points.

Soon enough, Flanagan heated up. She was 2-2 from deep in the first half, totaling eight points at halftime. Flanagan managed to continue to find open looks, with a final stat line of 7-9 shooting, including 3-4 from three. She finished with 17 points and six rebounds.

However, the rest of the Dragons seemed to struggle. Outside of Flanagan, Drexel shot 16 percent from beyond the arc and 29 percent overall. Their only lead in the game was at 2-0.

Leer had six of ’Nova’s first 12 points, helping the Wildcats out to a 15-2 lead at the under-12 media timeout. Burton, Edwards, and Kane added 3-pointers during the early 15-0 run.

With the score at 23-10 with 7:05 remaining, the Coyer twins went on a roll. Caroline hit a three to extend the lead to 16, and within the next two minutes, sophomore guard Katherine nailed a triple and added two free throws to mark Villanova’s largest lead of the game at 31-10.

Katherine Coyer finished with a career-high 12 points, and Caroline chipped in a dozen as well.

Twitter was filled with Wildcat fans predicting an early raising of the hardware during halftime, but last year’s ’Cats often slumped at the beginning of the second half, so the 16-point halftime lead was by no means enough.

Each team only scored once in the first five-plus minutes of the second half, but over the next few minutes, Drexel narrowed the gap to single digits. Buckets from Drexel senior forward Abby Redick and freshman guard Alexis Smith cut the lead to nine.

Soon after, Creighton, Flanagan and Smith contributed threes and layups to trim the lead to six points with 6:23 remaining, 55-49. But by the time Flanagan made the Dragons’ next field goal with 1:49, Drexel had gone cold again and Villanova started pulling away. The Wildcats would only add free throws over the final 5:55, and would take home the title with a 63-52 victory.

Edwards contributed eight boards for the second consecutive game, and Leer finished with 18 points to go with two blocks and two steals. Caroline Coyer paced the team with five assists.

The championship was Villanova’s seventh victory in their last 10 tournaments. Leer was named Tournament MVP, and Kane was selected to the All-Tournament Team. Kane and Flanagan were high school teammates at Notre Dame Academy.

The Wildcats will take their 2-0 record to Lehigh on Thursday to play the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. Last year, they beat the Hawks at home 66-49, and have not lost to them since 2009.

Villanova was picked third and fourth in the Big East in various preseason polls, and Caroline Coyer was named to the Preseason All-Big East Team. They will open the Big East schedule on Dec. 28 at Creighton as they look to return to the NCAA Tournament after falling to Michigan in the first round last year.

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