I picked George Mason to beat Villanova in my bracket, but I certainly didn't expect a Wildcats collapse quite like that.
With 3:53 left in the game and 'Nova winning 52-46, stats guru Ken Pomeroy tweeted that the Wildcats had an 80 percent chance to win. As probabilities go, that's pretty high.
Jay Wright's squad did not get that statistically likely outcome, though. Instead, it got doused with another cold bucket of reality.
George Mason outscored Villanova 15-5 after that last timeout. The Wildcats made only one of five field goals and three of six free throws in that span.
I still thought the Wildcats would pull out the win when Corey Fisher sank all three shots from the line after being fouled shooting a three with 32 seconds remaining. That gave 'Nova a 57-56 lead. All the Wildcats needed was one defensive stop.
They didn't make it. Luke Hancock canned a wide open three on the ensuing possession to give Mason a 59-57 lead with 28 seconds left, and Villanova missed two shots to tie the game in the final nine seconds.
George Mason rebounded the second miss, and Mike Morrison raced away to cap things off with an emphatic two-handed slam.
I am sure you all have plenty to say about the game. Here's your chance. I've posted a poll asking which of Villanova's six season-ending losses you think was the worst. Cast your vote, then tell me which game you voted for in the comments.
Here is the transcript of Villanova's postgame press conference. Jay Wright, Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns were on the dais.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Villanova head coach Jay Wright and student-athletes Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher. Coach, an opening statement.
JAY WRIGHT: I know given our tough endings down the stretch here, we have to explain that. But I don't want it to take away from the fact that was a great NCAA Tournament game, and George Mason is an outstanding team. And they played great.
And I really think that's the story. They made big-time plays down the stretch. The 3 by Hancock, the offensive rebound by Morrison with the game on the line was huge, huge.
And in the NCAA Tournament, that's what it's all about, just two very good teams and a great NCAA Tournament game. And George Mason made the plays down the stretch.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. You guys the last month or the last few minutes of the game it's been tough and it happened again. Any thoughts why you haven't been able to make the plays at the end of the game that you've made throughout the game?
COREY FISHER: I think we was aggressive. We had some tough breaks, some shots we take that normally go in and drop down the stretch.
But, you know, we still had a chance. We was defending on the other end. And they just made some plays down the stretch. And Maalik was aggressive. Stokes was aggressive. I went to the line and knocked down 3, and Hancock, we tried to make him -- force him to go left, and he stepped back. And I think that was his -- he only shot two 3s, and he hit a big shot. We got a great, great play for Stokes and a shot that he normally knocks down and it didn't drop.
Q. Corey, you just mentioned Hancock's shot. He looked like he was standing there, didn't know he was going to shoot it. Did you guys expect him to pull up with that?
COREY FISHER: We knew he was going to make a play. Stokes played great defense. And moved on the ball screen. And, like I said, we tried to make him left. And Stokes took away his right. He didn't want to use his screen. And Stokes stepped back and contested his shot late and he had a big shot.
Q. Corey, seemed like you were being treated on the bench. Jeff taped your knee up. Was there any problem with the knee in the second half?
COREY FISHER: No, no problem. A little cut. It was bleeding up. Just stopped the bleeding and came back in the game.
Q. Corey, we talked yesterday about you wanted to finish up your senior season strong, and now it's another loss. How tough is that to deal with, just to go out this way?
COREY FISHER: It's tough. Being my last college game and doing it with a bunch of guys I love and a father figure, especially Stokes and Ton that I knew before we came here. But we did a lot of positive things, no matter whether we lost or won the game today.
Can't be negative. And we gotta look at a lot of positives. We lost a game to a good team, which made a run in the tournament a lot of years, and can't do nothing about it. Just gotta stay positive.
Q. Maalik and Corey, you guys seem to have a physical edge for long stretches in the game. They got to 1 at one point in the second half. You pushed it back out. You seemed to have a physical edge. What do you think happened in those last three minutes? What two or three things turned it their way, in your mind?
MAALIK WAYNS: They made plays. They went to the guy who was making plays all game, Hancock. And Morrison was rebounding all game, and they both made big plays. We looked for the play that we usually run, we got good looks, and we just didn't knock them down.
COREY FISHER: It was nothing. We both was aggressive on the boards, George Mason and us. We played good defense. They just -- we both was trying to get the ball, whether it was on defense or offense. And they made some plays down the stretch. That's what's going to happen when you're playing against a big-time team. And we also made plays down the stretch, too.
And you can't look back. And I think the last three minutes, we both was battling in there. And they made some tough plays down the stretch and they went to their go-to guy. I think somebody missed a shot from the corner, and then Morrison or Pearson got off on the rebound and put it back in to go up 2. And that's something they're good at. We was down there tagging and they just got the rebound.
Q. Both of you, you've been through these games where -- Rutgers, South Florida, where you've had big leads and things didn't go your way at the end. Is there a sense of here we go again or this is happening again? Or do you guys find a way to stay confident when the lead is slipping away?
COREY FISHER: That's never in our mind. What happened in South Florida, Rutgers game, that's weeks ago. And games ago. You can't be playing a game, out there competing, thinking about something else. You gotta have a clear mind, and that's something we did today. I think we played good. And George Mason played good.
They came out with some big plays to win the game.
MAALIK WAYNS: We never really worry about games, games in the past. Our next game is our biggest game. We just worry about the task at hand. And coming down the stretch, they made some plays and we didn't make some shots. And that's how it went.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Fish just said that there's no way that the disappointments of past games enter in their mind. Do you think it kind of seeped in there, though, in the last couple of minutes when they missed free throws and they had two turnovers you didn't convert off of, and things were just getting away from them?
JAY WRIGHT: I really don't. I can fault free-throw shooting. We missed some free throws. Not boxing out. The two guys that missed free throws are not great free-throw shooters. So it wasn't -- and Antonio hit back rim -- it wasn't like he shanked it or anything.
It's just what I am most proud about this team, and you guys know everything we've been through, is they come back every night, just like they said, and they believe they're going to win it.
Going down that stretch we had that last play to give Stokes a shot in the corner, and they were coming out of the huddle, they believed they were going to make that play. And, now, granted, again, we don't get a rebound, we miss some free throws, but it's not out of lack of confidence. That's one thing this group has not done.
I really admire their psychological strength. I would have liked us to get better box-out on that rebound. Hancock, we kind of got -- he kind of got us out of shape. He kind of shook Stokes, got him off where I like to see him get up on him quicker, things like that. They made the plays. I give the credit to George Mason.
Q. Did they do anything different defensively in the second half to you or did they just turn up the pressure a notch or two?
JAY WRIGHT: I think from the halfway point of the first half and through the second half they got really physical with our guards. They just really rode our guards off any ball screens. And early in the game they didn't. I don't know if that was the game plan or not. But there was a point when Fish got it going. I'd say about five minutes to go in the first half and then the whole second half they were real physical and did a great job.
Q. How do you look back at this season? You had so many great wins early. Things got away from you late. Kind of an unusual season. How do you look at the big picture?
JAY WRIGHT: Big picture, I feel really good about our program. I think this is going to make us stronger, and I feel great about this senior class.
I feel you've got to deal the hand that's dealt. Or you've got to play the hand that's dealt. And these guys had some really tough circumstances, some tough breaks, tough calls, which every team has to go through. And I just love the way they handled it, right to the bitter end.
They believed -- I told them in the locker room I'll share this with all our future teams, I think we've lost seven in a row and we're coming out of the huddle in a tournament with nine seconds left and they just believed we're making that shot to win the game. And I love that about this group.
Now, wins and losses-wise, when people question whether we should have been better, I can't argue that. I really can't. But as a coach and an educator, what I can deal with is how these guys handled it and what we can learn from it, and that's going to be the way we evaluate this season.
Q. Following up on that, I would guess that this is a pretty unique spurt for you as well in your coaching career. What have you learned from it, or is there room to grow?
JAY WRIGHT: I think throughout all these games I've learned that I love being a college coach. I'm glad I'm not a pro coach. If I was a pro coach I'd probably get fired for this season.
And I love the fact that at Villanova everyone expects us to win. But I know within our administration we've got great kids. Four seniors are going to graduate on time. And they've had great careers, and they've handled themselves with just great dignity off the court and on the court. They've battled to the last second.
And I promised those seniors in the locker room, you know, in our program we talk about each class's legacy, and this class has been to the Sweet 16, final Eight, Final Four, but they've endured a really tough season that would have crumbled a lot of guys personally. It would have crumbled guys. It would have crumbled teams. But I just love how we came out of that huddle. And I'm very disappointed in losing the game. I'm very disappointed in some of our execution in some of those games.
But I'm very proud of their heart and their commitment to Villanova basketball.
Q. Did you expect Hancock to make that shot? Because he kind of gets there and he just stands outside the arc and didn't really know what to do, and just kind of puts it up.
JAY WRIGHT: You know, it kind of reminded me of the shot in a way that Juan Fernandez hit for Temple. Hancock is a great facilitator. How many assists did he have? He had five assists, one turnover. He really makes plays for people.
And we tried to get up on him and contain his drive, because when he gets in the lane he makes plays where people get to the foul line. He shot the most free throws for them. So Stokes actually did a good job.
And I think he's just a good enough player. We took away his first look, which is drive and score. His second look, his drive and pass, we took it away. His last look is step back, pull up, jumper.
If you've got all three of that to your game, that's why they put the ball in his hands at the end of the game. He made a big-time shot.
It doesn't surprise me that he made it. He shoots over 40 percent from 3. So we knew they were going to put it in his hands. We had Stokes on him. He's our best defender, and the kid made a great play.
Q. When you look at the last two minutes of games that your team has played over the last month, what do you see? I understand the effort is there and the commitment and all that, but what do you see differently? Why are they missing the shots that they're hitting earlier and the turnovers and the inbounds? Why are the plays not happening late in games?
JAY WRIGHT: We've only had one turnover inbound. If you look at this game, we executed everything perfectly. Other games we missed shots. We missed free throws. It's just kids.
If you coach -- I don't want to ruin your story, and I know you've got to write it -- but if you coach college kids, if I want to be dramatic and give you some great story, I'll come up with a crazy answer. But they're college kids.
You don't know if the kid, you know, his girlfriend broke up with him last night. You just don't know. All you can do is put them in that position and give them confidence. I know they had confidence. I look at how they missed the shots.
Like Antonio hits that back rim. Mouph's not a great free-throw shooter. As soon as Mouph goes to the line, I'm thinking why him. He got doubled up there. I was going to call time-out. Right when I was going to call time-out they called the foul. And those things just happen sometimes. I told the guys: Our Final Four year, our final Eight years, those things didn't happen; the right guy goes to the foul line.
Hancock misses that shot, but -- so I understand what you're saying, and you're right, you're right, but that's the way I look at it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.