Saturday, March 06, 2010

#9 Wildcats Fall In OT Heartbreaker to #10 West Virginia, 68-66, After Losing 14-Point Lead: Reynolds' Game-Winner At the Buzzer Hits the Rim

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #9 Wildcats - playing in their metropolitan Philadelphia finale - lost a heartbreaker to #10 West Virginia, 68-66, at the Wachovia Center.  It was one of the most painful losses of the Jay Wright era, as the Wildcats yielded only 16 points in the first half, and seemed to be well in control, with a 14-point second-half lead.  Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher both tied the game with dramatic three-pointers, Stokes in regulation and Fisher in overtime.  But Scottie Reynolds - playing in front of a uniformly pro-Villanova crowd for the final time - missed what would have been the game-winning shot at the buzzer at the end of overtime.

UPDATE:  On Saturday afternoon, Reynolds launched the final shot he will ever take in metropolitan Philadelphia, at least while wearing the blue and white of Villanova.  Had this shot, taken as time ran out in overtime, fallen, it would have been the perfect capstone, to his many stellar performances in front of pro-Wildcat crowds over the past four seasons.

He took the shot from the near corner (from a CBS television angle), and thus directly across the court, from his Wildcat teammates.  And when he released it, I certainly thought it was headed in.  The other Wildcats did, as well, as you can see from the replay.  As did most of the people in the Wachovia Center.  Yet another heroic buzzer-beater from Reynolds, in a high-profile game.

Well, the basketball gods giveth, and they taketh away.  Whatever magic they provided in last year's Elite Eight against Pittsburgh, when The Shot bounced in to propel Villanova to its first Final Four in 24 years,. it wasn't forthcoming, yesterday afternoon.  Reynolds's shot was just a little bit long, and clanged off the rim.

The miss meant that West Virginia - coupled with Pitt's eventual win over Rutgers later in the afternoon - meant that the Mountaineers, Panthers, and Wildcats are caught in a three-way logjam for second place in the Big East standings, at 13-5.  The Big East tiebreaker rules stipulate that for resolving this tie, a "mini-conference" of Villanova, West Virginia and Pitt is considered.  Under this formula, Pitt claimed the runner-up spot, with West Virginia taking the #3 seed.

And so, in the span of one week, the Wildcats have gone from playing Syracuse, with the hopes of winning the Big East regular-season title, to the #4 seed, barely claiming a double-bye.  After starting the season 20-1, the Wildcats are really struggling down the stretch.  They are now 24-6, having lost four of their last six games.  Not where they wanted to be, come March.

Villanova will almost certainly be gone from the Top 10 in Monday's poll, and deservedly so.  We used to dream about a #1 seed, for which this loss has extinguished any flickering hopes.  Even capturing the Big East tournament championship on Saturday, probably wouldn't put Villanova back onto the #1 line.  If the season were to end today, the Wildcats would be fortunate to garner even a #3 seed.  Our strength-of-schedule, though respectable, isn't high enough to warrant anything higher.  Only some good wins in New York, over top-flight opponents, could change that dynamic.

This was a very painful loss.  The Wildcats had a great deal to play for; a chance to win for the final time in front of their own partisans; a chance to add another victory over a top 10 opponent; a chance to take the #2 seed in the conference tournament, and thus draw weaker opponents.  And they had this game well under control.

The Wildcat defense yielded only a paltry 16 points to a high-powered opponent in the Mountaineers, their worst half of the season.  They had a 13-point lead at halftime, and a 14-point lead in the second half...

Four Wildcats wound up in double figures.  Reynolds led the team with 17 points, but did so on just 5-16 shooting, including an anemic 1-9 from three-point range.  Fisher added a dozen points, while Stokes - returning to his early-season form as the Bayonne Bomber - went 3-6 from beyond the arc, finishing with 11 points, off the bench.  Reggie Redding finished with 10 points, while guarding West Virginia star Da'Sean Butler.  Nonetheless, Butler hit what would prove to be the game-winning shot, in the final seconds of overtime, just before Reynolds' bomb from the corner hit the rim.

A notable absence was that of Taylor King.  I noticed, near the end of the first half, that he hadn't yet entered the game, and speculated that either he was in Wright's doghouse, or that he was injured, especially because he was sitting at the far end of the bench.  Neither of the CBS announcers noted his absence, most likely because unlike (for example, Jay Bilas or Bill Raftery) they hadn't done any of our games this year, and didn't notice that we were missing a player out of our rotation (albeit one whose playing time has been declining...)

Resolving the mystery, David Cassilo of The Villanovan Sports Blog reported after the game that Wright told the media that King didn't play because of a "teaching point".

Certainly, it was regrettable that King committed this offense, prior to this particular game, because the Wildcats could have surely used him, in an overtime loss by two points to a powerful opponent...

Next Up for the Wildcats - The Big East Tournament - Quarterfinal Game on Thursday, vs. Marquette, Connecticut, or St. John's

The Wildcats - having now been reduced to the #4 seed -will now play one of three potential opponents: #5 Marquette, #12 Connecticut, or #13 St. John's.  Marquette enjoys a single bye, and will play the winner of Tuesday's matchup between the Huskies and Red Storm, on Wednesday afternoon.  In turn, the Wildcats will face the winner of Wednesday's contest, on Thursday aftenoon, officially at 2 PM (although in practice, it will more likely be around 2:30, as the first game of any Big East tournament doubleheader rarely concludes early enough for a 2 PM start of the second game).

Please check back for more news, as the Wildcats' adventure into March Madness begins...

Go Wildcats!

E-mail: villanova.viewpoint-at-yahoo-dot-com (same e-mail address as you've been using...)


Anonymous said...

Didn't see game. Disappointed to see result. Have we lost four of last six after starting out 20-1 or 21-1.

Damn, to go from class of BE and a #1 seed in NCAA tourney to #4 seed in BE tournament is a comedown.

I wonder if something is going on in the locker room? Freshmen hitting the wall? Doesn't look like the same team we watched through mid-February.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the comment. Per your question: you are correct, it was our fourth loss in our last six games... after a 20-1 start. Including two losses at the Wachovia Center.

As to what's wrong with the team - I wish that I could figure it out. It seems that we may have peaked too soon (as opposed to last year's team, which crested when it mattered most...)

Regarding the freshmen - Maalik Wayns, in particular, has begun to struggle, which is why I believe that Wright has reduced his minutes as the season has gone on. But Mouph is really developing, and Armwood and Cheek are showing solid improvement...

Hopefully, we'll have better luck in New York...

Go Wildcats!