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Why Nova beats Carolina… Trags Take 04.02.09 at 9:07 pm ET
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National semifinal-Villanova (30-7) vs. North Carolina (32-4), 8:47 p.m. ET, CBS-TV.

It is generally assumed that the University of North Carolina, with names like Lawson, Hansbrough and Green, is the team with the most depth and the most talent in the NCAA tournament, with Connecticut a fairly close second. And it’s generally assumed Carolina is headed for another championship date, if not title, on Monday night in Detroit.

North Carolina has been, for the most part, very workmanlike in their four-game run through the tournament to this point. They have dispatched of Radford, LSU, Gonzaga and Oklahoma. Villanova is coming off one of the most epic battles in NCAA tournament history, edging Pittsburgh on a mad 60-foot dash to the basket by Scottie Reynolds.

These two teams have great tournament history.

Michael Jordan and company beat Villanova in the Elite Eight in 1982 when Carolina finally won a title for Dean Smith. Villanova returned the favor in 1985, when they beat the Heels in the Southeast title game, 56-44. And in 2005, a most dubious traveling call was made on Nova’s Allan Ray and Carolina held on for a 67-66 win in the Sweet 16 as Carolina won its first title under Roy Williams.

Here’s how Villanova evens that score on Saturday night in Detroit.

1: Man-to-man. Villanova has the athletic depth on its roster that not even the No. 2 seed Oklahoma Sooners could throw at the Heels. Scottie Reynolds can match up with Ty Lawson man-to-man, with Corey Fisher off the bench. Dante Cunningham can defend Tyler Hansbrough because Cunningham plays ‘long’ as scouts are fond of saying. Dwayne Anderson, Nova’s most underrated player, will likely get the assignment of dealing with Danny Green.

2. Senior Leadership. No team is getting more out of their seniors than Nova. Dwayne Anderson, Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark. They all played key roles in not folding under the pressure on Saturday, when the Cats trailed by four with under three minutes to go.

3. Coaching. Jay Wright has his team believing they can beat anyone in any circumstance.

4. Defense. Villanova is playing better defense than any team in the field right now. They’ll need it because Carolina is averaging 90 points a game in their four wins.

5. 1985 Karma. Otherwise known as the Rollie Massimino Reunion Tour. Massimino met with former Pistons coach Chuck Daly this week at the hospital that is treating Daly’s pancreatic cancer. Daly, who took Penn to the Final Four in 1979, drew up a play for Massimino to give to Jay Wright.

How they got here:

No. 3 seed Villanova won the East Regional. Beat No. 14 American, 80-69. Beat No. 6 UCLA. 89-69. Beat No. 2 Duke 77-54. Beat No. 1 Pittsburgh, 78-76.

No. 1 seed North Carolina won the South Regional. Beat No. 16 Radford, 101-58. Beat No. 8 LSU, 84-70. Beat No. 4 Gonzaga, 98-77. Beat No. 2 Oklahoma, 72-60.

This Villanova team isn’t the 1985 squad that pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA history by beating Memphis State and Georgetown in the final. It’s better and more talented. The 1985 team had Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain and Gary McLain, Harold Pressley and Harold Jensen, Wakefield’s Mark Plansky off the bench.

And with all due respect to Plansky, a classmate in Electrical Engineering ’88, this version of the Wildcats have about twice the number of scoring options and are playing even better defense. That 1985 squad had the advantage this one doesn’t-playing with no shot clock. And still, this team has found ways to shut down UCLA, Duke and Pitt in three straight games.

Final take:

Villanova 71, North Carolina 68

Read More: March Madness, North Carolina, Villanova,
Full disclosure 03.29.09 at 12:26 am ET
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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.

Maddening indeed.

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.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,
The greatest college game ever… in Boston at 12:11 am ET
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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.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,
A classic in the making 03.28.09 at 8:40 pm ET
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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.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,
Pittsburgh 34, Villanova 32 Halftime at 8:06 pm ET
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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.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,
Nova out early, Pitt bounces back at 7:51 pm ET
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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.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,
Early thoughts at 7:23 pm ET
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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.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,
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