Saturday, March 28, 2009
Updated: March 29, 11:02 AM ET
Play for the ages lifts Villanova
By Andy Katz
BOSTON -- Images. That's what you have in a game like this that meant so much for every player, coach and passionate fan hanging on every possession in a frenzied final two minutes.
It is moments like Scottie Reynolds' driving shot with five-tenths of a second left that will give him and Villanova a place in the legacy of the NCAA tournament.
"It's going to be one of those shots that you always see," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "It's great for your program. It's great for that kid. He'll be 30 or 40 and they'll still be playing that shot."
Reynolds held the basketball close as he left the news conference podium following Villanova's 78-76 epic victory over Pitt at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday night, giving the Wildcats their first Final Four appearance since the dramatic Cats shocked the sport with a 1985 title over mighty Georgetown.
A Villanova assistant athletic director had found Reynolds, gave the ball to him, and as far as Reynolds was concerned, it was his to keep before "someone tries to wrestle it from me," he said.
Sounds. There's nothing quite like the silence in a locker room like Pitt's on Saturday night. Shower water is pounding the backs of stunned players. They shuffle back to their lockers, getting dressed without a voice being heard. In the corner, Pitt sophomore DeJuan Blair was hunched over, texting someone, and when he was approached his voice was barely audible.
"I was getting ready for overtime," Blair said.
Levance Fields, the Pitt senior guard who found a way -- as he has countless times -- to make a play late, drew a foul after a wild baseball pass off an inbounds play by Nova resulted in a turnover and a Fields free-throw situation with five seconds left. Fields hit one free throw and then after a Villanova timeout, made the second to tie the game.
"We just needed one stop," Fields said. "We just didn't do what we needed to do in those five seconds."
Silence. There were no words as Dixon, associate head coach Tom Herrion and athletic director Steve Pederson sat together in the locker room. There was nothing they could say. It was reminiscent of Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli's reaction when the Hawks thought they had beaten Oklahoma State in the 2004 Elite Eight for a once-in-lifetime Final Four appearance, only to see the Cowboys come back down and win on the next possession. Martelli sat in a room with his wife Judy at the Meadowlands, lost for words.
|Scottie Reynolds finished with 15 points, the last two the most important.|
The Panthers were convinced they were headed to overtime. All they had to do was stop Villanova in the final five seconds. They had come back from blowing a four-point lead with 3:24 left that turned into a four-point deficit with 46 seconds remaining, tying the game with 10 ticks left. They made plays to make this last possession matter. All they had to do was stop the ball.
Nova's Reggie Redding, who Wright said makes good decisions and did see a wide-open Dante Cunningham at the time of that errant long pass, threw a lob to Cunningham in the middle of the floor -- moments before a possible five-second call. Reynolds was running up the sideline to take the handoff from Cunningham. It's a play that Wright said never works in practice, but one Reynolds said they still would practice time after time. Pitt's Sam Young and Jermaine Dixon were trailing Reynolds. Reynolds had Blair in front of him, beat him and only had to get by Gilbert Brown to the hoop.
"Reynolds went straight to the basket and even took a little bit of contact and was able to finish," Fields said. "Reynolds made a great play going to the basket. It went from
having a chance of going to overtime and possibly winning the game, to, you know, the season being over."
Reynolds, who said he just made an instinctive play, didn't see the ball come through the net.
"Everybody just rushed the court," Reynolds said.
"'The kid has a knack," Wright said. "He never fears failure. I don't know he got [the ball after the game] but he deserves it."
It's great for your program. It's great for that kid. He'll be 30 or 40 and they'll still be playing that shot.
-- Villanova coach Jay Wright on Scottie Reynolds' game-winning shot
Nova coaches were pleading with the players to get back to the bench after officials determined there was five-tenths left on the clock. Dixon had to get Fields, who was lying on the court, to get up and come back to the bench for one more play.
The Garden sounded like it did when it used to be across the street, an old-sweat box during the Celtics' glory years. But Pitt wasn't through.
Fields took the inbounds pass and launched a dead-on three-quarter court shot that was on line but about six inches too high.
"When the ball left Levance's hands it was right on target to go in," Reynolds said.
"I put all my strength behind it," Fields said. "We take horse shots like that in practice all the time, but that's a tough shot to go in [at that time]."
Pitt was crushed. Villanova was euphoric.
"It was crazy," Villanova's Corey Fisher said of the final two minutes. "My head was just spinning."
Cunningham clutched the East Regional championship trophy as he left the news conference podium and kept it by him in his locker stall. Reynolds had the ball. Cunningham had the trophy. They both had a strand of the net. These were the images.
"It was bang, bang, back-and-forth," Cunningham said. "The great thing about this team is that we always know there can be another play."
Kansas has the Mario Chalmers shot to tie the national title game a year ago against Memphis -- a game the Jayhawks won in overtime. Villanova now has Reynolds' shot with less than a second to play.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Reynolds said.
But they're not through. The Wildcats say they can win two more in Detroit next weekend. They can make this moment matter even more so with a national title. Wright said after watching his Cats play more physically than Duke in beating the Blue Devils handily in the Sweet 16, it made him think they could get to the Final Four by beating Pitt.
|Levance Fields did all he could to help the Panthers.|
One shot, one play, one slight movement by a defender and maybe this doesn't happen, maybe the game goes into overtime and the result is different. It was that close.
"We really felt like we should have won the game," said Dixon, who continued to say how proud he was of his team, especially seniors Fields, Young and Tyrell Biggs. "We felt that we played hard, played smart, but it just didn't go our way. ... It was a split-second play."
Coaches have said for years that the loneliest feeling in the NCAA tournament is losing in the Elite Eight. Reaching the Final Four has become the standard to which excellence is measured. Fair or not, the Final Four is what gets remembered most.
Wright lost an Elite Eight game in 2006, when the Wildcats were a favorite as a 1-seed. On Saturday they were the surprise as a No. 3 seed, beating the top-seeded Panthers. Wright said he was crushed after that Elite Eight loss to eventual champion Florida three years ago. The swing of emotion is even more dramatic when the game ends as it did for Nova on Saturday. This wasn't a fluke. Since halftime of its opener against American, Villanova had played arguably the best basketball in the tournament in crushing UCLA at home in Round 2 and then running away from Duke in the Sweet 16.
"It's just starting to sink in," Wright said as he stood outside the Cats' locker room. "I'm thrilled for our people and I'm sure our campus is going crazy. I just wish I could sit up on a blimp and watch them all and stay out of it. I don't need to be celebrating. I'm too tired. I'd like to have a glass of wine and watch them all enjoy it. It's really pretty cool."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
|Villanova heads to its first Final Four since winning the title in 1985.|