Into the history books

Villanova 78, Pittsburgh 76: Juliano | Kern | Ford | Jensen | Hofmann | On campus | Box

National coverage: Weiss | Feinstein | Ryan | Katz | N.Y. TimesWash. Post | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Okay, this might take a little while, and it might be a bit disjointed. So bear with me...

I'm in shock. I really am.

It took me quite a while after the live blog ended to really believe Villanova is going to the Final Four. It all came so fast and so furiously that only now can I piece back together all those little things at the end.

- Line of the Game winner Dwayne Anderson's dead-eye three-pointer from the top of the arc with 1:48 left in the game after Levance Fields had given Pitt a 69-68 lead with two free throws.

- Reggie Redding missing the first of two free throws with 20 seconds left right when Verne Lundquist mentioned the all-time record of 22-for-22 in 1971 by Fordham. At that point, Villanova had shot 21-for-21 from the line.

- Redding shaking off the pressure of the miss by making the second free throw, giving the Wildcats a two-possession lead.

- The stunning turnover off the almost-full-court inbounds heave from Corey Fisher Reggie Redding after DeJuan Blair's layup made it 76-74. Cunningham caught it at the baseline and tried to throw it out of bounds off Jermaine Dixon, but turned it over instead. All of a sudden, it seemed like Villanova was going to choke the whole thing away having stood mere inches from the pinnacle of college basketball. Levance Fields got the ball, and then came the biggest play of the game...

- Corey Fisher's foul of Fields with 5.5 seconds on the clock. Yes, Scottie Reynolds' sprint and layup will be the shining moment for the rest of time, and it should be. But I'm going to argue right here that in terms of pure impact on the game's result Fisher's foul was more important.

Why? Because if the foul hadn't happened, there was a chance - no matter how tiny - that Fields might have found just enough space to launch a three. And Sam Young was open if Fields could have found him.

If that shot, or any shot, had gone in, you can be sure there would have been much less time on the clock. Maybe three seconds, maybe two, or maybe none at all.

And if there had been none at all, and if Fields had hit the shot, Pitt goes to the Final Four. And that huge blue tidal wave never explodes onto the floor, even if the clock hadn't expired yet. And we all sit there in the live blog stunned for a totally diferent reason than we were.

Instead, Fields ties the game with two free throws. Could he have intentionally missed the second and hoped for a tip-in? Sure, but I can't imagine that makes more sense than tying the score and trying to force overtime. You can't necessarily assume Pitt would have gotten the rebound, and if they had you can't assume they would have found a shot.

Now, if Fields misses the first one, then I presume he has to try to miss the second and hope for a putback. But when you have two teams in a game that close and the intensity level is as high as it is, I have to think you'd much rather go the safe route and take the overtime.

Maybe I'm just arguing against myself there. And maybe some of the guys who were in Boston tonight covering the game will say the same thing, though I haven't read all the stories yet so I don't know.

But again, the point is that if the foul hadn't happened, there would have been no chance for Villanova to win the game in regulation either.

The full final stats were as follows:

Villanova shot 25-for-56 from the field (44.6%), including 6-for-20 from two-point range (30.0%) and 19-for-36 from two-point range (52.8%), and as we all heard, 22-for-23 from the free throw line (95.7%). Eleven offensive rebounds, 18 defensive rebounds, nine assists, five blocks, six steals and 24 fouls committed.

That adds up to 69 possessions and 1.13 points per possession.

Pittsburgh shot 25-for-52 from the field (48.1%), including 5-for-18 from three-point range (27.8%) and 20-for-34 from two-point range (58.8%), and 21-for-29 from the free throw line. Ten offensive rebounds, 17 defensive rebounds, 14 assists, 11 turnovers, three blocks, four steals and 18 fouls committed.

That adds up to 67 possessions and 1.14 points per possession. In other words, an impressively efficient game by both teams, especially considering the circumstances and the pressure.

I wonder if the numbers would have been so high had the game been played in a football stadium, but that discussion is for another night. Suffice to say I don't think it hurt to play the game in a basketball arena, and that includes the atmosphere.

Of note, both teams shot better than 53 percent from the field in the second half: 53.8 percent for Villanova (14-for-26) and 53.6 percent for Pittsburgh (15-for-28). Villanova shot at least 50 percent from two-point range in both halves: 50.0 exactly in the first half (8-for-16) and 55.0 percent in the second (11-for-20). Pittsburgh shot 70.6 percnet from two-point range in the second half (12-for-17).

Also notable was the rebounding distribution. At Villanova's end, there were 11 offensive rebounds and 17 defensive rebounds. At Pittsburgh's end, there were 10 offensive rebounds and 18 defensive rebounds. So the Wildcats ended up with an ever-so-slightly better offensive rebounding percentage (11/28 = 39.3%) than Pittsburgh's (10/28 = 35.7)

That's pretty impressive when you consider that Pitt had the best offensive rebounding percentage in the Big East and the second-best overall in Division I.

The other point I want to make tonight is to try to put this thing in a little bit of a bit of context.

I think about this team compared to the 2006 squad of Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Jason Fraser and Curtis Sumpter. And with all due respect to the players on this Villanova team, I honestly think that the 2006 squad had more individual talent.

But they only ever got to the Elite Eight. It is this year's squad - Reynolds, Fisher, Cunningham, Anderson, Reggie Redding and the rest - that has won the bigger prize.

Why? Well, a lot of it has to do with the draw, and rather specifically Florida three years ago. I picked Pittsburgh to win the national championship coming into the tournament, but none of the four teams Villanova has played so far have the kind of athleticism and firepower those Gators had.

Sure, Pitt has brawn, but whatever advantage that might have brought against the Wildcats was immediately negated by facing a Big East rival that beat them earlier in the season. Familiarity was a big factor in this game whether it bred contempt or not.

You also have to give a lot of credit to Jay Wright for game-planning and getting his players to execute in the big moments, especially in the regional rounds. And of course there was that smashing three-piece suit tonight.

I will have a lot more to say about Wright either this week or after the season's over. I haven't decided yet. The short form of it is that especially after tonight, why on earth would he take the Kentucky job?

You look at how vitriolic the fans are in Lexington, and how much pressure there is to win yesterday, and how little patience the Kentucky administration had with Billy Gillispie, even though the entire SEC stunk across the board this season.

Why bother with a mess like that if you can do what Jay Wright has done at Villanova over the last five years? Especially when you think about the recruits Wright has coming to the Main Line next year? He's achieving success, you can tell it means something to him to be achieving success at Villanova specifically, and you know he's paid well enough. What's wrong with that?

To close out the night, I want to highlight one of your comments from the live blog. Those of you who were in there saw there was a pretty good back-and-forth between the Temple and Villanova fans, and one poster in particular was riding Scottie Reynolds pretty hard.

For example, there was this one during the second half:

Nova will choke this game away. Bank on it. When times get tough, Scottie Reynolds will fold.

I held my tongue the entire game because I had way too much to deal with paying attention to the game. But now that it's over, I think we can pretty safely say Reynolds can get it done in the clutch.

To bring it back to the start of the post: After finally turning my thoughts into something coherent, it makes more sense now than it did at the final buzzer. One of the oldest adages in sports is that you make your own luck, and Villanova sure has done a lot of that over the last two weeks.

Now these Wildcats' ghosts will join their brethren from 1985 in the Pavilion's rafters. The dance continues for another week, but the memories truly will live forever.

D. Anderson

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