John Leuzzi (@ByJohnLeuzzi)
VILLANOVA — Christina Dalce knew it would come.
It just took finding the right timing to get her offensive game going.
“The past couple of years, it's been a struggle to find that offensive piece because sometimes I am a little too fast when I catch the ball or my shot is off,” Dalce said. “But knowing that being able to get the offensive rebound and making it easier for me to put it back in, (I’m) finding my rhythm and my groove in that (and it) has definitely contributed more (to it).”
Villanova forward Christina Dalce had a career-high 18 points and finished with her seventh double-double in Tuesday's win over Penn. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
On a night where star junior guard Lucy Olsen went an unprecedented 4-for-18 from the field, Dalce found that groove, allowing her to take over the scoring for Villanova in its narrow 68-62 victory at the Finneran Pavilion over Big 5 foe Penn Tuesday evening.
Dalce, a North Jersey native, posted her seventh career double-double as she finished with a career-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field while grabbing a team-high 17 boards.
“She's grown so much (over the) last year,” Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin said after the game. “She got an opportunity to play a lot more than she did her freshman year, and she's been in a great system with the great coach (Denise Dillion) and the right players around her. She rebounds the ball as well as anyone does at the college level.”
Whether it was putting the scoring on her shoulder with Olson having an off night or fighting for the offensive board for the putback, Dalce made her presence felt all over the court Tuesday.
She went 5-for-5 from the field with 11 rebounds and two blocks in the first 20 minutes alone.
Dalce, who emerged as a dominant rebounder for the Wildcats this season, is posting career-high numbers offensively in her third season on the Main Line. Through seven games, she is averaging 8.9 points per game while knocking down 38% of her shots from the field.
Over the last four games, she has finished in double-figures three times, including Tuesday. That type of scoring, to go alongside Olson, will be beneficial for the Wildcats heading into conference play Saturday against St. John’s.
This emergence is a byproduct of her growing confidence on the offensive end, Dalce said.
“It definitely helps a lot as each game comes by,” said Dalce, who played for USA Basketball women’s 3x3 U21 team this summer. “I'm learning to have patience. My coaches, even my teammates, are always talking to me about being patient. I should be able to reward myself.
“Even in today's game, I really took that into consideration to be calm, be patient and we had a pretty good outcome with that … My confidence is (definitely) going higher.”
Villanova guard Maddie Webber returned from injury Tuesday night and scored a career-high 16 points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
With senior guard Bella Runyan and Olson in foul trouble throughout the first half, Dillion also received quality minutes and production from first-year guard Maddie Webber, who appeared in her first game since sustaining an injury almost three weeks ago against Richmond.
“I was kind of nervous at first about my foot and playing defense and moving around, but when I'm playing I don't really think about it and everything just felt good,” said Webber on her return. “It slowed me down a lot on offense too, so that felt really good.”
The 5-foot-11 guard didn’t take long to take advantage of her opportunity, scoring on a fast-break layup in the final minute of the first quarter. Then she hit a 3-pointer in the second quarter before knocking down a right-handed hook shot right before halftime.
Webber finished with a career-high 16 points off the bench on 6-for-13 shooting, providing the Wildcats with much-needed bench production, something they have struggled with this season.
“I just like coming off the bench and giving us a little spark,” Webber said. “Just playing hard is what I do.”
If any part of this game resembled Big 5 basketball, it was how the Quakers did not go down without a fight in the fourth quarter.
Despite trailing by 12 heading into the frame, Penn found a late offensive spark hitting eight of its nine shots from the field midway through the quarter to cut the Villanova lead to five, 65-60, with two minutes to go.
Webber sealed the win for the Cats with three clutch free throws in the final 19 seconds. The Bridgeville native said she didn’t really feel “that much pressure” in what has been her biggest moment yet in a Wildcats uniform.
“(Because) everyone around me also can score,” Webber said. “But I also know that I do have to step up a little bit, and, honestly, I don't really think of Lucy just not scoring. It's just like me making shots.”
Villanova will take the short drive over to Hawk Hill on Saturday to face an undefeated 8-0 St. Joe’s squad in another Big 5 showdown. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Hagan Arena.
“With the men’s team unfortunately losing to St. Joe’s, we have to venture for that (win),” Webber said. “No hard feelings, but we have to do what we have to do.”