Friday, February 19, 2010

Villanova / Pittsburgh Rivalry History: "The Shot" and Everything Before

To the Wildcat faithful-

In arguably the most dramatic ending in the modern history of Villanova basketball, Scottie Reynolds entered immortality with "The Shot" on March 28, 2009.  He did so with a driving layup to oust the top-seeded Panthers, and take the Wildcats to their first Final Four appearance in 24 years.

But the Villanova / Pittsburgh Rivalry History goes back much further... Here's an updated look...

The Wildcats lead the all-time series, 32-27. As members of the Big East, Pitt leads in regular-season meetings, 21-20. But Villanova has won six of the eight Big East tournament games, so that puts it 27-22, Villlanova, in games as Big East members...

The Wildcats have won three of the last four meetings, including the final college basketball game at the old Spectrum, when the Wildcats upset the then-#3 Panthers, 67-57, on Wednesday, January 28, 2009... 

However, the first meeting between the schools was nearly a half-century ago, long before the creation of the Big East...

February 11, 1960 - The Wildcats crushed the visiting Panthers, 76-49, at the Fieldhouse (now Jake Nevin).

January 25, 1961 - The following season, in the return visit to Pitt, the Panthers won a narrow 57-55 victory. The series then lay dormant for 16 years, which is surprising, given the geographical proximity.

The series resumed when both teams were in the Eastern Eight. The schools faced other seven times while they were in that conference, with Villanova capturing four of the seven meetings. Pitt was off the schedule for three seasons, from 1980-1982; in the interlude, the Big East formed, and Villanova joined it for the second season of play, in 1982-83.

January 12, 1983 - The teams meet for the first time as Big East members, and Rollie Massimino's Wildcats win easily, 66-48, @ Pitt.

March 8, 1984 - In their first clash in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, Villanova triumphs, 75-65.

January 29, 1985 - The Panthers make their first visit to the Palestra to specifically face Villanova (as opposed to Penn, or other Big Five members). The Wildcats win, 70-63...

March 2, 1985 - In one of the most famous losses - in hindsight - of Villanova history, the Wildcats fall in the regular-season finale @ Pittsburgh, 85-62. Why it was so memorable:

1985 marked the first year of the 64-team field in the NCAA tournament. Since it would be the first tournament with such a large field, nobody was entirely sure exactly what it would take to get into the field. (25 years later, as many schools and writers can attest to, it's still very murky.) Villanova was ending the regular season with a 23-point loss, and it was speculated that the dreadful game @ Pittsburgh down the stretch might give the Selection Committee a reason to omit the Wildcats from the expanded field...

March 7, 1985 - Five days later, in a rematch in the Big East tournament, Villanova wins, 69-61...

In retrospect, the Wildcats were given a #8 seed, meaning that they were never endangered by the regular-season loss; it's possible that the subsequent win over Pitt might have helped offset it, but nobody was certain of that at the time...

January 16, 1986 - In their final visit to the Palestra, the Panthers fall 74-70.

February 4, 1987 - In their first visit to the brand-new Pavilion, Pitt escapes with a 58-57 victory.

March 12, 1988 - En route to the Elite Eight, the Wildcats avenge being swept in the regular season by Pitt, winning 72-69 in the Big East tournament.

February 19, 1994 - At Fitzgerald Field House, Villanova triumphs in double overtime, 93-88...

March 4, 1998 - In the opening round of the Big East tournament, the highlight of the rebuilding season - Villanova's only non-postseason team, since 1993 - comes when Howard Brown hits a three-pointer in transition, at the buzzer of double overtime, to boost the Wildcats into the quarterfinals, 96-93.

January 19, 1999 - In the "Jewel Heist Game", Pitt must play with a depleted squad after Panther players are alleged to have been involved with the theft of jewelry from the Radnor Hotel, where the team was staying for their visit to the Pavilion. Villanova cruises to a 86-65 victory.

That was the state of the rivalry, as the 20th century ended. Pittsburgh rebuilt successfully under Ben Howland, now the coach at UCLA.
As it turned out, Pittsburgh was in the other Big East division for its renaissance, and Villanova was fortunate in often missing them on the schedule.

During the Jay Wright era, he has faced Pittsburgh 11 times, going 5-6:

Groundhog Day, 2002 - In Wright's first game against the Panthers, Pitt hands the Wildcats a 71-59 loss @ Fitzgerald Fieldhouse.

March 9, 2003 - This game was legendary for taking place after the phone-code access scandal decimated Villanova, at the end of a highly disappointing season, the year the freshman quartet of Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Curtis Sumpter, and Jason Fraser, arrived on the Main Line.

With a skeleton team of six players at the (one-third-full) Wachovia Center for the regular season finale, Wright's gallant Wildcats nearly stunned a top-10 Pitt squad, in what would have been among the greatest upsets in Big East history had it taken place. Wright employed the stallball tactics learned from his mentor, Massimino, but Pitt ultimately prevailed, 56-54.

March 6, 2004 - Traveling to Pitt, the Wildcats suffer a 59-45 loss, as the third (and to date, the most recent) of Wright's teams fated for the NIT.

February 20, 2005 - At the Pavilion, Wright finally beats the Panthers, 80-72.

March 10, 2005 - In the rematch in the Big East tournament, Villanova wins again, 67-58.

March 10, 2006 - One year later, to the day, Pitt tops Villanova, 68-54, in the Big East tournament semifinals. The teams did not meet in the regular season. That game was the occasion when Ray suffered a grievous eye injury early in the second half.

January 29, 2007 - At the Wachovia Center, Pittsburgh triumphs, 65-59...

January 6, 2008 - When the Panthers return to the Pavilion for the first time since 2005, the Wildcats hang on for a one-point victory, 64-63.

January 30, 2008 - 24 days later, the teams meet twice in the regular season, for the first time in a decade (the 1997-98 season).  At the Petersen Center, Pitt splits the series, winning 69-57.

January 28, 2009 - The Wildcats, in a profound act of nostalgia, play their final game at the "old" Wachovia Spectrum, in its final winter of events, prior to its date with the wrecking ball.  The old magic of Georgetown and Syracuse Games Past appears, as Villanova upsets the Panthers, 67-57.  

It would have been difficult to imagine, at the time, that the upset not only wouldn't be the most memorable game of the season - it wouldn't even be the most memorable victory over Pitt!

Check back for some more content on Sunday's battle with the Panthers...

Go Wildcats! 


No comments: