Thursday, March 18, 2010

#2 Wildcats Survive Heart-Stopping Upset Bid By #15 Robert Morris in OT, 73-70; Villanova Rallies From Eight Down With Under 4 Minutes to Play

To the Wildcat faithful-

The headline says it all.  More to come...


What you see below is not the entire game story, as I still have to go back and look at the tape one more time, to chronicle the thrilling Villanova comeback in the last 3:57 of regulation, as well as their ability to hold off the counterattack by Robert Morris in overtime.  So, please enjoy the story you see below, and check back for more content on one of the most remarkable (although not in a positive sense) Villanova NCAA tournament victories. 

Today's game marked the 31st appearance by Villanova in the NCAA tournament, and its 49th victory (against 30 losses).  In this particular case, it's worthwhile to consider what would have happened, if the Wildcats had lost, rather than if they had won.

In 1995, #3 Villanova - with a nucleus of Kerry Kittles (the school's all-time leading scorer), Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams, Eric Eberz, and Jonathan Haynes, entered the tournament as the hottest team in the nation, the first - and thus far, only - Wildcats squad, to ever win the Big East tournament.  But the entire ride came crashing down in the first round, against #14 Old Dominion, in triple overtime.

It might seem unusual, to consider the parallels between 1995 and 2010, 15 years apart.  But the historical consequences of that loss to Old Dominion lasted a very long time - a decade, in fact.  The regime of Steve Lappas, Jay Wright's predecessor, never fully recovered, from the debacle.  (Which is remarkable, given that Lappas-coached teams subsequently reached the tournament in 1996 (a #3 seed), 1997 (a #4 seed), and 1999 (a #8 seed).

But ultimately, while at Villanova, Lappas went just 2-4 in the NCAA tournament, and the albatross of the Old Dominion fiasco was something that he could never shake.  Nor did it help, that all four of the losses came while wearing the white jerseys of the higher-seeded team.

Villanova's program did not fully recover from the defeat for ten years - when Jay Wright's third team reached the Sweet 16, eventually losing to North Carolina in a heartbreaker in that round in Syracuse.

It did not go unnoticed, by me, that in this year's tournament, Old Dominion just happened to be playing - and pulling an upset, in fact - at the same time Villanova was locked in its battle with a tenacious, gutty, and gallant Robert Morris squad.  Was this a sign from the basketball gods?

Would the 2009-10 season - with its promising, magical 20-1 start - be remembered, primarily, for how it ended?  An appalling slump to end the regular season, a single loss in the Big East tournament, and becoming just the fifth #2 seed - ever - to lose to a #15 seed, in the NCAA tournament?  Entering play today, #15 seeds were 4-96 all-time against #2s, since the current format began in 1985.  No #2 seed had fallen since 2001.

Fortunately, all of these questions are merely of historical, speculative interest.  Villanova - somehow - managed to rally from a 55-47 deficit, with 3:57 to play, force overtime, and outlast Robert Morris, 73-70.  CBS analyst Bill Raftery put it best: "Robert Morris only lost on the scoreboard."   It was the inaugural meeting between the two Pennsylvania schools - and I would seriously doubt if Villanova will be scheduling Robert Morris any time in the foreseeable future.

Raft was entirely correct, as he often is.  The Wildcats did not even come close, to deserving to win this game this afternoon.  The basketball gods cruelly tantalized the Colonials, and every player and every member of the Robert Morris coaching staff will wonder, for the rest of their lives, how they managed to let that advantage slip away, in the final 3:57.   In a Providence venue, where they had the majority of the crowd rooting for them as the underdog... (and which, although they were probably not aware of this, Villanova had historically struggled against the Friars...)

Perhaps the most egregious misplay from Villanova, was when Corey Fisher attempted to inbound a ball from underneath the basket, and trying to throw it toward the corner, turned the ball over, when he misfired the ball in that diretion, and the ball itself fell wide left of the line.  (As in not even close; it didn't even hit the line.)

Or perhaps it was when Reggie Redding, with Villanova trying to protect a lead at the end of overtime, inexplicably passed up a certain, absolutely guaranteed layup (no Colonial was within a mile of him), in favor of dribbling the ball for an extra second and a half, in order to be sent to the free throw line, to convert the two points that he could have just laid in without any trouble whatsoever.  (And he then missed one of the two free throws, giving Robert Morris a chance to force another OT, by keeping it a one-possession game at 73-70.)

I do believe, however, that in sports, it is inevitable that you have to win games, that you don't deserve to win.  The nation really should be reading about the remarkable upsets in Providence, about how #15 Robert Morris will be taking on #10 St. Mary's on Saturday.  But fortunately for us Villanova folk, we get to keep playing.  And the bottom line is that under the single-elimination format, all that matters is that we won today (on the scoreboard, or by luck, at least - as opposed to execution, shooting accuracy, rebounding, and the like.

Perhaps the one silver lining is that we probably can't play any worse, against St. Mary's.

The day had gotten off to a highly inauspicious start, when the noon KYW-3  news and the CBS Road to the Final Four both led with the story about how Fisher and Scottie Reynolds would not start due to what Wright termed "a teaching point".  Reynolds was inserted into the game less than four minutes in, and Fisher appeared soon after.  Apparently, according to Raftery and Verne Lundquist, they hadn't read or absorbed a scouting report of Robert Morris,  in accordance with team rules.  (After seeing the Wildcats' performance today, I can totally envision the accuracy of the charges.)

Granted, it probably did not really damage the Wildcats, today.  Fisher and Reynolds don't play anywhere near every minute, anyhow; the four minutes they sat out were more than made up for by the extra energy they had later.  But it was still a distraction, and it's very disconcerting when two of your most experienced players aren't fully prepared for NCAA tournament play.

Reynolds had one of the worst shooting days of his career: 2-15 from the floor, and 1-8 from beyond the arc..  Ironically, he made up for it by draining 15-16 from the line, finishing with 20 points (off the bench), leading the Wildcats.  He now needs 29 points to tie Kittles as the school's all-time leading scorer, but he's fortunate that he has additional games in which to draw closer to the mark.

But the big story was Mouphtaou Yarou.  Mouph came up big, with a stellar performance, easily the best of his young Villanova career.  Mouph was unstoppable in his 26 minutes: 17 points on 5-6 shooting, 7-7 from the line, eight rebounds, a pair of assists, and three blocks.  He was clearly the most valuable Wildcat, today.

The Wildcats also received a big boost from King, who seemed to be back to his old self: 10 points in just 15 minutes off the bench.

I will have a full preview of the second-round game against St. Mary's, up as soon as possible.

Go Wildcats!

E-mail: villanova.viewpoint-at-yahoo-dot-com


Anonymous said...

The refs bailed you out with that game.

Very generous.

Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Thank you for leaving a comment. It was a really tight game, obviously, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what separated victory from defeat.

Go Wildcats!

Anonymous said...

Great game from Yarou. Valuable contributions on defense from Maurice.

I guess it is a teachable moment for Scottie and Fisher, but it is troubling they needed it.

Why didn't we see more of Taylor King? His line looks great. And why so little of Pena?


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the comment. My thoughts:

Incredible game from Mouph. Mouph was the reason why we won yesterday, absolutely. Give Jay Wright credit for how he's developed.

Also, fine work from Sutton... I was astounded that he played that much, but I think that Wright wanted his size in there against such a smaller team...

Per Taylor King-

He hadn't played much at all - he didn't play at all in the West Virginia game - the regular-season finale - and just two minutes against Marquette.

So, candidly, I was surprised that Jay played him at all - and let alone how much time King received; 15 minutes.

And I agree completely - King really helped us win today. 10 points in 15 minutes? From a guy who played two minutes - total - in your previous two losses?

Per Pena:

That, I have no clue. I noticed throughout the contest that he wasn't on the floor much (and he wasn't in foul trouble, at all; he got nine minutes and one foul). The only thing I can think of, is that Jay thought that Sutton's superior size and shot-blocking ability were badly needed - and he was willing to sacrfice Pena's polished offensive skills, to that goal...

Well, just my opinion... and I'm particularly grateful that we get to play again tomorrow...

Go Wildcats!