Denver exacts dominant revenge on Villanova, Pioneers advance to BIG EAST Title Game

Photo courtesy Denver Athletics

DENVER – It was the Denver Pioneers’ best, most dominant performance of the year and elated fans of the Crimson & Gold were left to wonder, “where the heck has this been all season?” Just less than a month after the Villanova Wildcats came to Denver and upset the Pioneers in a 12-11 thriller, the Pioneers returned the favor and then some in a 17-11 victory in the BIG EAST Semifinals at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. After giving up the first goal, the Pioneers turned it on and poured it on jumping to a 12-3 halftime lead before cruising to the six-goal victory.

It’s hard to beat a team twice in a season. It’s even harder to beat a team like Denver, a team coached by the greatest of all time and known for his adjustments, twice in a season. A month ago, Denver was shooting at a brick wall named Will Vitton who made 19 saves on 30 Pioneer shots on goal. Tonight, the Pioneers flipped the script and scored 17 times on 23 shots on goal while forcing Vitton to change his eye level time and time again. Where shots were finding Vitton’s stick four weeks ago, tonight, they found twine and the Wildcats couldn’t solve for Denver’s attack.

Not only did the Pioneers get a huge lift from its offensive effort, its defense and goaltender Cole French kept the Wildcats at bay. Denver forced three Villanova shot clock violations and Cole French made six key saves spread across all four quarters. It was an inspired performance all across the field was the kind of performance that Denver, a team that struggled to find its rhythm throughout the regular season, desperately needed as the postseason gets underway. It’s the kind of performance DU can really build upon going forward.

The Pioneers did have to withstand a second-half push from the Wildcats but with a nine-goal lead at halftime, there was really never any doubt about who would come away with this victory. That’s a sentence that hasn’t been written at all this year. Maybe the Pioneers exorcized some demons and emphasized the revenge factor against the Wildcats. Or maybe DU found the rhythm that was lacking for the first three months of the season. Whatever it was, with May Madness getting underway, this is exactly how the Pioneers wanted and needed to start the postseason.

Denver will get its first chance to build on tonight’s momentum against the Georgetown Hoyas on Saturday afternoon at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium with a Big East title and an auto-bid into the NCAA Tournament on the line.

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One thought on “Denver exacts dominant revenge on Villanova, Pioneers advance to BIG EAST Title Game”

  1. DU was very efficient tonight on its shots, and the offensive ball movement was a pleasure to watch. The Pioneers were able to score inside, outside, with alley dodges and with precision — this is the kind of confident, balanced offensive attack that can make the Pioneers a very tough out in the tourney play. It’s clear that DU has been working on getting more rhythm on offense, and that work in practice is starting to pay off. It couldn’t arrive at a better time.

    Walker, French, Jackson, Sullivan, Hannah, Simmons, Curtis and McKone looked much more in-synch with each other tonight.

    DU is also much more confident on clears now with Cole French in the net, and that allows the offense to flow much easier than when clearing. Danny Logan and Kyle Smith have figured out the clearing patterns and that makes DU much more dangerous than they were when they struggling to get the ball past midfield earlier in the season.

    Cole French wasn’t amazing tonight, but he was serviceable, and the Pios need 50% or better to be competitive.

    Even though the Pios really struggled at the face-off x tonight, the middies often provided good wing play and the DU defense rarely allowed Villanova much room, save for a bad spell in the second half when the Pios took their foot off the gas for a while. Villanova’s offense must be really hard to prepare for – it looks like a scramble much of the time, with as the ‘Cats seem to rely on a bunch of good athletes freelancing, rather than on set offensive patterns, as the Pios do. That must make any defensive coach nervous in trying to set a defensive plan, but the Pios took care of business and got the job done. DU obviously wanted to rest a few regulars with a big lead in the second half and a title game coming up on Saturday, but we quickly saw the DU regulars return when Nova crept back in the game from a 15-6 deficit. As DU only has up to 5 more games left, all against top 20 opponents, we likely won’t see the reserves any more…

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