BOSTON – Scottie Reynolds went coast-to-coast, like Brigham Young’s Danny Ainge once did some three decades back against Notre Dame. And put in a basket that will live in Villanova history forever. An Instant Classic. And because he did, the Wildcats are back in the Final Four for the first time since they won it all in 1985. They advanced with a 78-76 win in the East Regional Final against Big East rival Pitt at the TD Banknorth Garden.
It was everything you could ever want for a game this late in March. Maybe even more.
In the final 28 minutes, nobody led by more than five points. Pitt’s Levance Fields made two free throws with 5.5 seconds to go, to tie things at 76. Following a timeout, Reggie Redding inbounded to Dante Cunningham halfway between midcourt and the free-throw line. Cunningham immediately got it to Reynolds, who dribbled down the right sideline, then got to the lane. He put one up, a little off balance, from about 5 feet away, with Gilbert Brown right in front of him. No sweat. It went in, and Villanova was headed to Detroit for next weekend’s Final Four. But not until the officials put a half-second back on the clock, which allowed Fields to heave one from about 70 feet that hit off the glass just to the right of the rim.
“I just made a layup,” Reynolds joked. “I made an instinct play. I knew how much time was left. I got lucky with it.”
Good doesn’t hurt, either.
“He’s a jet,” said Cunningham. “It’s kind of hard to catch him.”
Added Dwayne Anderson: “We work on that play in practice. It’s just how we draw it up.”
Reynolds brought the ball with him to the interview room. He probably won’t be letting it go any time soon.
“They said this is it,” he said. “They could be lying … Thanks.”
The Wildcats (30-7), who beat Pitt (31-5) in the final college basketball game at the Wachovia Center on Jan. 28 (67-57), will meet the winner of Sunday’s game between North Carolina and Oklahoma.
It’s the Wildcats fourth trip to the Final Four. They made it in 1939, when there were only four teams in the field. They went back in 1971, losing in the title game to UCLA.
Another Big East team, Connecticut, advanced in the West Region by beating Missouri. Still one more, Louisville, will play Michigan State in the Midwest finale.
In 1985, of course, three Big East teams all made it to Lexington.
Rollie Massimino, who directed that magical run, was in the house for this one.
“I’m so proud of him,” Massimino said. “It’s just great. I’ve known him since he was a baby. Now, he’s a superstar. It’s because of his work ethic, and his personality, everything he is.
“On this team, it doesn’t matter who’s who. They’re all catalysts. I hope they enjoy it. They’re going to enjoy the heck out of it. It does bring back memories. The little Catholic school on the Main Line. It’s wonderful.”
Villanova led by 10 after 10 minutes. But Pitt led by two at the half. After that, it was simply a game of punch and counter-punch. Then the Panthers ran off four straight points, to take a four-point lead with 3:20 left. And they had possession, after a Nova turnover. But they turned it over two straight times, and Nova converted them into five points to go back on top.
When Reggie Redding made one of two free throws (the only Nova miss, on 23 attempts), it was 76-72. But DeJuan Blair’s layup at 10.6 cut the margin in half. Nova tried to inbound long, from Redding to Cunningham, but it resulted in a turnover at the far end of the court, giving Pitt one last chance. When Fields got fouled by Redding crossing midcourt, he had the opening. And made the most of it.
It just wouldn’t be enough. You knew it was going to be painful for somebody.
The Wildcats got 17 points from Anderson, 15 from Reynolds (the obvious Most Outstanding Player), 14 from Cunningham and 11 from Shane Clark, including three big three-points early on. Corey Fisher had nine off the bench, Corey Stokes seven. Fisher made four foul shots in the final 46.5, and a backdoor layup with just over two minutes showing that put Nova up, 68-67.
There were 15 lead changes, and 10 ties. Other than that, it wasn’t much of a game.