|Full disclosure||03.29.09 at 12:26 am ET|
BOSTON – Covering Saturday night’s East Regional final was the single toughest assignment of my professional career.
It’s one thing to grow up following a team and surrender those feelings once you turn professional reporter.
It’s another to cover the school you poured your heart and soul into for four years while watching one of the greatest sporting upsets in modern sports history as a freshman in person. Yes, I’m referring to Villanova over Georgetown on April 1, 1985 at Rupp Arena.
So it was Saturday night. I blogged away as Pittsburgh battled my alma mater, Villanova in a game where classic doesn’t seem to do it justice.
I got text messages from my peeps in my native Cincinnati, my peeps in New York, my peeps here in Boston, all of whom were pulling for me during a nerve-wracking second half. Thanks to you all for your concern for my mental health as I was typing furiously away across from the Pittsburgh bench. But I was also in front of the Villanova fan section. It was deafening all night.
I maintained professional composure until the last teardrop by Scottie Reynolds. And beyond. No cheering, no smiling, honest. At least on the outside. On the inside, I was a mess. I’ll admit that I clenched my fist when the ball went through the hoop but as soon as it did, I unclenched and got busy typing This Just In on WEEI.com.
As NovaNation was going bonkers right behind me, all I could think of was the man sitting five seats to my right and one row back. Rollie Massimino had seen this all before. He smiled like the proud daddy he is. After all, when this reporter attended Villanova between 1985-88 Rollie was simply known as Daddy Mass, something Jay Wright referenced all weekend long.
Then I got to work again covering postgame. I’m glad I was at TD Banknorth Garden for the greatest game ever played in the building.
|The greatest college game ever… in Boston||at 12:11 am ET|
With about 10 minutes remaining in the second half, during a timeout on the court, the video board at TD Banknorth Garden played a replay of Christian Laettner beating the UConn Huskies at the buzzer in the 1990 East Regional Final at the Meadowlands.
Talk about foreshadowing.
In what many observers were calling one of the five greatest college games of all time, Scottie Reynolds channeled another buzzer beater (Tyus Edney from 1995) to stun the Pittsburgh Panthers and send Villanova to the Final Four for the fourth time in school history and the first time since winning it all in 1985.
Reynolds took a pass from Dante Cunningham and drove some 65 feet winding and weaving his way through the Pittsburgh defense which was scrambling to get in position. They never could and when Reynolds raced past DeJuan Blair and then nudged into Gilbert Brown and float a runner over his head and into the basket with 0.5 seconds remaining, Villanova had a 78-76 lead.
But it wasn’t until Levance Fields’ desperation heave from 75 feet was off the mark that NovaNation could go into a Beantown frenzy. And they did. Villanova coach Jay Wright came over to hug Rollie Massimino and there were ‘I love yous’ and ‘I am so proud of yous’ all around as 2009 met 1985.
“It’s kind of eerie how this is playing out,” Wright said. “I hope to God history repeats itself (laughter), because I remember — my wife is here, my wife and I were down there as fans. I worked Rollie Massimino’s camp, I was there like a hanger on. I was part of the family. The thing with Rollie was if you worked his camp you might as well have been the top assistant, everybody was in the family. And my wife was a cheerleader there, she had just graduated.”
If Carolina beats Oklahoma on Sunday, then it will be Carolina and Nova in the Final Four, one round later than when the Cats beat the Heels in ’85 on their way to the title.
“And it’s — that was kind of the greatest year in the Big East history, and we’ve had discussions whether that year was better than this year, it’s a whole another topic. But that was similar. Villanova was a great team, but St. John’s and Syracuse and Georgetown were the teams that year. Villanova kind of sneaks in. And then it’s all happening the same. I’m not a superstitious person or anything, I don’t care. I’m worried about the next game. But if history repeats itself, I’ll take it (laughter).”
There were so many moments to remember. Almost too many to digest.
Down four and with Pittsburgh bringing the ball up, Dwayne Anderson stole the ball at midcourt and went into for a layup with 2:45 remaining. Reynolds may have had the play of the game but Anderson’s steal and layup was the turning point of the final three minutes.
Corey Fisher hit a layup to give Villanova the lead. Then, down one again, Anderson hit a three for Villanova, 71-69. Then two free throws by Fisher, 73-69 with 46 seconds left. Then, with Villanova up, 76-72, with 20 seconds remaining, Blair hits a layup. Then Reggie Redding heaves a ball the length of the court and the turnover leads to Levance Fields getting fouled.
Two free throws by Fields and 76-76. And then Scottie Reynolds turned into Tyus Edney. And Villanova is off to Detroit.
|A classic in the making||03.28.09 at 8:40 pm ET|
Jermaine Dixon was taken to the locker room within the first minute of the second half as two Villanova players came down on his legs scrambling for a loose ball. Dixon lay on the floor for a couple of minutes as was treated by Pittsburgh training staff. He returned to the bench with 15 minutes remaining but did not re-enter the game.
Levance Fields hit an early three in the first two minutes of the second half.
It’s been a busy night for legendary college hoops writer Dick ‘Hoops’ Weiss. In the first half, he was bowled over by a Pittsburgh player who spill his drink. Then Sam Young early in the second half ran into press row and guess who had a first-hand look? Young split Weiss and New York Post scribe Lenn Robbins.
That play caused Weiss to move to the second row and led to the most spectacular play of the game. The ball was saved in bounds and wound up at Villanova’s end. Corey Fisher collected it on the ground and fed Scottie Reynolds. Reynolds pump-faked and made a reverse lay-up high off the glass.
Dante Cunningham picked up his third foul with 14:10 remaining in the second half.
The two teams are trading blows in what is turning into a classic Big East backyard brawl.
|Pittsburgh 34, Villanova 32 Halftime||at 8:06 pm ET|
After trailing for most of the first half, two free throws by Sam Young with 2.6 seconds remaining gave Pittsburgh a two-point lead at halftime in the East Regional final.
The play that led to the two free throws was symbolic of the topsy-turvy play between the two Big East powers.
Sam Young pump-faked Nova’s Dwayne Anderson into the air and then slipped underneath him, causing Anderson to do a spectacular, if not dangerous flip onto the hardwood. Anderson got up none the worse for wear.
Pittsburgh ended the first half on a 26-14 run to take the lead at the break.
Villanova is shooting 34 percent (11-for-32) while Pittsburgh has warmed up to 42 percent at 10-for-24.
Both teams have players with foul issues. Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair picked up an ill-advised second foul when he came out to screen Scottie Reynolds with under two minutes remaining. Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark both have two fouls for Villanova.
|Nova out early, Pitt bounces back||at 7:51 pm ET|
As was the case with Xavier, Pittsburgh fell behind early, trailing 18-8. Villanova found its range from three-point territory as Shane Clark hit a pair of consecutive shots from beyond the arc.
But Pittsburgh went on a 12-4 run, capped off by a steal by big man DeJuan Blair near mid-court and a ramble to the basket. He made the layup and then a free throw, to close the Nova lead to, 22-20.
The key moment of the game so far occured when Nova’s Dante Cunningham picked up his second foul with seven minutes remaining in the first half, leaving them without someone to guard Blair.
Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds is playing with a dark wrap on his right wrist and he was shaking it as he drove to the basket for a layup late in the first half and landed on it.
|Early thoughts||at 7:23 pm ET|
Villanova jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead with 15:18 left in the first. And when Scottie Reynolds hit a floater in the lane, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon was forced to call a timeout, even though the official timeout benchmark of 16:00 had passed.
The crowd again is again heavily dominated by Villanova supporters. We told you about Ray Ventrone in the crowd. Rollie Massimino, mastermind of the 66-64 upset of Georgetown in 1985 is sitting in the first row of seats behind press/radio row.
Both teams are showing the early jitters. Villanova made just three of thier first 10 shots. Pittsburgh converted just two of their first seven. DeJuan Blair picked up an early foul when he tackled Reggie Redding after a steal, and like in the Xavier game, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon took him out until the next whistle.
|V for Villanova, V for Ventrone||at 6:38 pm ET|
BOSTON – Tonight’s East Regional showdown between Villanova and Pittsburgh figures to be a battle that will sometimes more resemble a football game than a tussle on the hardwood.
And there’s someone in attendance who can more than relate with the gridiron aspect. Patriots cornerback and special teams heavy hitter Ray Ventrone is sitting among the Villanova faithful. And for good reason. He graduated from the Philadelphia Main Line institution in 2005 and was signed as an undrafted free agent.
The irony in his presence at TD Banknorth Garden tonight is that he was born and raised in Pittsburgh before heading off to Philly to play college football.