"V" for Villanova. "V" for Victory! "V" for Final Four! Nova Nation, rejoice.
For the first time in 23 years, the Villanova Wildcats are headed to the Final Four.
Football is often called a game of inches.
Last night’s classic Elite Eight game between third seeded Villanova and No. 1 seed Pittsburgh may have been a game of centimeters.
It was a scrappy game from start to finish that literally came down to the final seconds.
Aside from an early eleven point lead by Villanova, no team ever held a sizable lead. With only a few minutes left in the second half, the Pitt Panthers were up four points with the ball looking to extend their lead to six or seven. Dwayne Anderson lunged and stole the ball, drove from mid-court, and scored on a lay-up plus the foul. He hit the foul shot to make it a one point game. Moments later he would drain a three pointer from the top of the key to put Nova back on top for good. But it wasn’t easy.
Nova had been a perfect 21-for-21 from the charity stripe, but up three, Reggie Redding stepped to the line and missed his first attempt. Under extreme pressure, he managed to sink his second attempt.
Up four, Nova allowed DeJuan Blair to break to the bucket for an uncontested lay-up.
With a two point lead, Redding, in a play I will never understand, tried to inbound the ball the length of the court to a breaking Dante Cunningham, ignoring Corey Fisher who was wide open in the corner.
The pass barely hit Cunningham on the finger-tips and he slapped it back inbounds behind him as he ran over the end-line.
The ball was recovered by Pitt and Levance Fields drew a foul from Fisher with five seconds to play.
Fields calmly sunk two free-throws to tie the game.
Out of time outs, Redding again inbounded the ball. Dangerously close to a five-second call, he found Cunningham around mid-court who handed the ball of to a cutting Scottie Reynolds who slashed to the basket, in traffic, and sunk a little floater with half a second to play.
Pitt inbounded to Fields who let a three-quarter court shot fly. Time seemed to stand still; the shot was right on the money. It hit the backboard a little too hard and bounced off; slightly softer and it might have been Pitt cutting down the nets in Boston.
The Wildcats wound up shooting an amazing 22-for-23 from the charity stripe. They might be called free-throws but they wound up costing Pitt the game. The Panthers went to the line 29 times but managed to sink only 21. Two more and they would have tied the game; three more and they would have won.
Scottie Reynolds will be called the hero of the game. He was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line (as was Fisher), and scored 15 points, including the game winner.
However, it was really the Nova seniors that got them over the hump.
This is the winningest senior class in Villanova history. They have tallied 100 wins, 30 this season alone, none more impressive then last night.
In four years they have made the tournament four times reaching the Sweet 16 three times, the Elite Eight twice, and finally now a Final Four.
Last night, the three senior starters all scored in double figures.
Shane Clark had nine points very early in the game on three three-pointers that helped set the tone, and finished with 11 points and four rebounds.
Cunningham added 14 points and five rebounds despite having to sit for several minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul.
Anderson was the real hero. He scored 15 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, and led the Wildcats with six rebounds.
Redding also had six rebounds to go with five points and four assists.
Anderson’s back-to-back three-point plays totally turned the momentum of the game in the final minutes. Knowing that this could be his last time ever playing in a Nova uniform he put the team on his back and willed them to a win.
Take nothing away from the Pitt Panthers, they played a hard fought game from start to finish.
DeJuan Blair, who had been limited by fouls in the first meeting between these two teams earlier this year (a game Villanova won by 10 points), was masterful scoring 20 points and adding 11 rebounds.
Sam Young added 28 points and seven rebounds, with Fields adding 10 points and six assists.
Pitt shot 47 percent from the field, was only out-rebounded by two, totalled five more assists than Villanova, and still lost.
It was just that kind of game. Someone had to lose and unfortunately for Pittsburgh and their fans, it was the Panthers. My heart goes out to those kids.
Now that the "V" party cut down the nets in Boston, it is on to Detroit for the Villanova Wildcats and coach Jay Wright.
Wright is clearly one of the game’s hottest young coaching talents. He demands, and gets the most out of his players. He is smart, charming, a great recruiter, and above all else— humble. Wright is a true role-model for the young men who play their hearts out for him each night.
Who’s next for the Wildcats?
They will face the winner of today’s North Carolina vs. Oklahoma matchup.
Both teams feature monster forwards (UNC’s Tyler Hansborough and the Sooner’s Blake Griffin) but after surviving Pitt’s Blair, the Cats proved they could handle either one of those guys, and force the other players on their respective teams to make big plays.
In that regard, I think Oklahoma would be a slightly better matchup for Villanova because after Blake Griffin, they aren’t as deep as North Carolina.
I think Nova has what it takes to beat either team if they continue to play hard and dictate a Villanova basketball style of play. They need to continue to work the ball inside to their big men, drive the lane, knock down open shots, hit their free-throws, and continue to play the smothering defense they have displayed so far in the tourney.
It’s clear that Villanova belongs in the Final Four with the likes of UConn (and the winners of today’s UNC vs. Oklahoma and Louisville vs. Michigan State games).
They now must be considered one of the best programs in all of college basketball and a legit contender to win two more games and cut down the nets in Detroit.
They trailed American by 14 points in the second half of their first round game, came back, and won. They then went on to beat UCLA (breaking their streak of three straight Final Fours) and powerhouse Duke back-to-back by at least 20 points.
Last night they outlasted No. 1 seed Pitt.
"V" stands for a lot of things at Villanova. Most importantly, it is the Roman numeral for 5. Five guys, out on the court, all playing as one.