3/29/2009 03:25:00 AM
[See end of post for video highlights.]
Villanova defeated the top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers tonight in Boston to earn a trip to the Final Four after one of the greatest, most epic, and most nerveracking games in Wildcat history.
It was fitting that a game featuring a ridiculous 10 ties, 15 lead changes, and 66 AP photos would come down to two last-second shots -- one rimming in, and one bouncing just high off the backboard after time expired.
Facing a tied score and a possible overtime with the Wildcats in severe foul trouble, Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds dribbled nearly the length of the floor to put in the winning floater with half a second left. The play will no doubt go down in Villanova and NCAA tournament history as one of the greatest winning baskets ever.
Reynolds's brilliant shot put the Wildcats ahead, 78-76, which was the final score after Levance Fields's desperation heave from 65+ feet bounced just errant off the backboard, way, way too close for comfort.
Although the entire game was an instant classic, the last few minutes were especially amazing. With a little over three minutes to go, Villanova trailed by four points, and Pittsburgh had the ball. Chances of a comeback seemed slim.
Dwayne Anderson, though, had different ideas, as he stole the ball and put in a crucial and-one layup -- and hit the foul shot. That play itself should be considered one of the most clutch sequences in Villanova history.
Then, up by two points with 13 seconds left in the game, Villanova called timeout before attempting to inbound the ball on its own baseline. Instead of simply inbounding the ball safely and shooting free throws to put the game out of reach (Villanova had made an astounding 22 of 23 fouls shots), Villanova and Reggie Redding executed one of the most boneheaded plays in NCAA tournament history.
Redding attempted to hit Dante Cunningham for the "home-run" play, throwing the ball almost 90 feet and nearly out of bounds. Not only did the play turn the ball over, it did not run much time off the clock.
I don't know if that was the play drawn up by Jay Wright in the timeout, but it seems likely it was, given Cunningham's home-run trajectory -- and Redding's eagerness to roll the dice. You cannot fault Jay Wright too much, however, as it was a good coaching job to even have the team in position at the end to potentially put the game away.
The inbounds play, in my mind, ranked right up there with Chris Webber calling timeout with none remaining in the 1993 championship game. Had Villanova lost this game, it would have been in the parthenon of all-time NCAA tournament errors. Thankfully, that did not happen.
Villanova proceeded to foul Levance Fields on the ensuing Pitt possession with just over five seconds remaining, which was nearly as bad a decision as Redding's inbounds throw.
After Fields calmly sank two free throws, the prospect of overtime looked grim for the 'Cats, who were beset by front-court foul trouble.
But then Scottie Reynolds made a play that will be included in NCAA tournament highlight reels for decades to come, and the rest is history.
Villanova advances to its first Final Four since the 1985 NCAA championship.
All in all, Villanova's last-second win over Pitt concluded one of the greatest basketball games in recent memory. I would argue that it topped this year's six-overtime thriller between Syracuse and Connecticut in the Big East tournament, simply because the game meant so much more and ended much more closely.
Personally, I have never rooted so hard for a sporting event in my life. It will be difficult to ever top this game for young Villanova fans -- but the Wildcats have the chance to do just that next weekend.
Right now, though, the win stands for me and many other young Villanova alumni as the greatest basketball game ever seen. The game, of course, triggered racous celebration on Villanova's campus (video).
Congratulations to reader "JohnnyB1" for most closely predicting the final score.
Villanova awaits the winner of Sunday's North Carolina-Oklahoma regional semifinal. I like the Oklahoma match-up much better for the Wildcats, so I'll be a Sooner fan tomorrow.
"READ MORE" below for player performance grades and analysis, followed by the embedded video highlights and links to other recaps.
- Reggie Redding (S, 36 min)
Redding's solid 36 minutes risked being overshadowed by his foolish inbounds with 13 seconds left. Luckily, Villanova won the game, so Redding's effort can be properly appreciated. Redding shot 2-6 from the field to score 5 points. He was the only Wildcat to miss a free throw, shooting 1-2 in the game's closing minute. He co-led the team in rebounds with 6. Redding added 4 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 steals, and a team-high 3 blocks. His overall defense was excellent. Redding is the heart and soul of a surging Final Four team. No top grade, because of the end-game sequence and small offensive impact, but Redding's tenacious defense earns him an above-average rating.
- Scottie Reynolds (S, 33 min)
Reynolds hit the game-winning shot in one the great finishes of NCAA tournament history. As Jay Wright said after the game, they will be replaying that basket when Reynolds is 40 years old. Reynolds's clutch play is even more amazing when viewed through the lens of his mediocre shooting night. Scottie shot 4-11 overall, and 0-3 from the three, and the team still won. Reynolds definitely seems bothered by his sore right wrist. Hopefully the full week's rest between now and the national semifinal will allow the wrist issue to fade away. Reynolds was perfect tonight from the foul line, a cool 7-7. He did not handle the ball very well, committing 4 turnovers, but of course he handled it well when it counted. Even though he shot 4-11 with 4 turnovers, no steals, and 1 assist, how can I not give Reynolds an excellent grade after one of the biggest shots in NCAA tournament history?
- Dante Cunningham (S, 30 min)
Cunningham picked up two fouls with over 8 minutes remaining in the first half. I emphatically diagree with the decision to sit him the rest of the half -- this was for a Final Four, after all, and you have to trust your senior not to commit an additional foul before halftime. As such, Villanova's arguably most important player was limited to just 30 minutes. Cunningham was not able to stop Blair, who scored 20 on 9-9 shooting, but he did manage to score 14 points of his own on decent 6-11 shooting. Cunningham pulled in a lower-than-usual 5 rebounds, and added 2 assists, 2 turnovers, and 1 steal. Whether Villanova next faces UNC and Tyler Hansborough or OU and Blake Griffin, Cunningham's next assignment will be the toughest and most important one of his career.
- Dwayne Anderson (S, 28 min)
Despite how good Dante Cunningham has been the last three years, Dwayne Anderson is the senior I will miss the most next year. His play in the NCAA tournament run has been astounding. Tonight he was easily the player of the game, and he made play after play to keep Villanova competitive. As mentioned, what's lost in Reynold's game-winner was how crucial a play Anderson's steal and three-point play was. Anderson shot a good 5-10 tonight, inlcuding 2-6 from the three and a very nice 5-5 from the foul line. He grabbed a team-high 6 rebounds. He also led the team in steals, with 4 of the 6 Wildcat picks overall. It was an amazing performance, and Villanova will miss Anderson's hustle, athleticism, decision-making, and resourcefullness next season.
- Shane Clark (S, 26 min)
I've got to hand it to Clark. He has been much-criticized in this space in his career, but he saved us tonight. Clark scored in the first half when no one else seemed able. He shot a good 4-7 overall, including an amazing 3-4 from the three. He notched 4 rebounds and committed just 1 turnover. Excellent hustle play from Clark, whose late-season emergence has been one of the bigger reasons for Villanova's improvement.
- Corey Stokes (23 min)
As predicted in the Duke recap, Stokes improved his shooting considerably against Pitt in the second game in the arena. Here is hoping that he will have the chance to play two games in Detroit's Ford Field stadium. Tonight, Stokes shot an excellent 3-4, including 1-2 from the three. He showed he could put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Stokes added 2 rebounds, 1 turnover, and 1 block. I still think Wright subs Stokes in and out too frequently for him to develop an optimal rhythm. Stokes, though, will need to be a reliable scorer in the next game if Villanova hopes to advance to the national championship.
- Corey Fisher 18 min)
Fisher only received 18 minutes tonight, but they were 18 huge minutes, and he was on the floor when it counted at the end. Earlier in the game, Fisher initiated one of the most entertaining plays I have ever seen. He dove to the floor for a loose ball and tipped it behind his body to a trailing Reggie Redding, who proceeded to make a fantastic pass to Reynolds in the corner. Reynolds pump-faked, getting his defender airborne, before driving baseline to make a very nice reverse layup. Without Fisher's extraordinary hustle, Villanova would not have had those two points. Fisher shot poorly again tonight, just 1-7. But where he really shined was on the foul line, where he was a perfect 7-7, including a pair of ultra-clutch late-game trips. He added 4 big rebounds for a 6-foot guard, and handled the ball reasonably well, dishing for 2 assists while committing 2 turnovers.
- Antonio Pena (6 min)
Pena contributed 6 decent minutes, and while he did not have any impact on the box score, he absorbed two personal fouls that would have disqualified any of Villanova's other frontcourt players.
- Incomplete grades: None.
- Did not play: Frank Tchuisi (CD), Jason Colenda (CD), Maurice Sutton (RS), Russell Wooten (CD).