Villanova living up to high expectations
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)—Standing at a podium and delivering a Hall of Famespeech, former Temple coach John Chaney stopped mid-story and veered into someadvice he wished he had given Jay Wright last April.
Chaney wanted to call Wright and tell him to make Villanova practice at anNFL stadium before playing in the one in Detroit at the Final Four. Chaneyexplained that those cavernous domes skew depth perception even for topshooters.
There was a reason Chaney mentioned the tip again.
“I want you to remember that because you’re going back again this year!”Chaney said to big applause.
Chaney, the wise old Owl, might be on to something.
The Wildcats went 24 years between Final Four appearances, spanning their1985 national championship team to last year’s bunch that lost to North Carolinain the national semifinal. This year’s team has no intention of making theprogram wait another quarter century before playing the last weekend of theseason. Villanova is as deep, loaded and motivated as it’s ever been underWright—and this year’s team may give him his best shot yet at winning anational championship.
“We can’t think about that,” Wright said. “But I don’t mind if everybodyelse does. We wouldn’t talk about it anyway because there’s a lot of ball toplay.”
Villanova has already lived up to the hype of opening the season as the BigEast favorite. The Wildcats are ranked No. 2 for only the third time in teamhistory, their 20-1 start is the best for a program that began play in 1920, andthey are the only Big East team unbeaten in conference play (9-0 enteringSaturday’s game at No. 7 Georgetown).
Those are the kinds of benchmarks that earn teams No. 1 seeds in the NCAAtournament.
“What I really like is that they see we can get better,” Wright said. “Wecome out of these games, they don’t look at it like, this is easy. They look atit like, I made a mistake here, I didn’t do this, I need to learn this better.”
That attitude starts at the top with Big East player of the year favoriteScottie Reynolds and stretches all the way down the bench to the 11th man. Ithas to, because they’re all playing.
Few teams can boast the depth of talent that Wright has recruited to theMain Line. The Wildcats have five McDonald’s high school All-Americans and nonehas grumbled about playing time to the media or on social networking sites.Villanova has 10 players averaging at least 11 minutes and one just a tick under10 minutes. They wear teams down with their fresh bench players, have nary aworry about foul trouble and have run over team after team with an inevitablesecond-half run.
Ten players both scored and grabbed a rebound in Tuesday’s 81-71 win overSeton Hall. In nine Big East games, Villanova’s bench has 254 points, an averageof 28.2 per game.
“This is the first time since we’ve been here where we have 10, 11 guysready to play,” Wright said.
Corey Fisher, Antonio Pena, Reggie Redding & Crew have all played invaluableroles in Villanova’s 11-game winning streak. But the Wildcats might be chasingthe Big East lead instead of holding it without their Top ‘Cat—Reynolds.
The 6-foot-2 guard is making his senior season one to remember. His valuegoes beyond his 18.5 scoring average, 41 percent 3-point shooting (up 6 percentfrom last year) or his 71 assists.
It’s his knack for making a key play just when the Wildcats need one. He’llforever be a legend at Villanova for his end-to-end layup over Pittsburgh in theNCAA regional final that thrust the Wildcats into the Final Four. But pick outalmost every win this season, and there’s a moment when Reynolds made thedifference.
Take a look at Villanova’s season sweep over Marquette. In the Jan. 2 win,Reynolds scored the go-ahead basket with 18.1 seconds left. In the Jan. 9 win,it was Reynolds coming up with a game-saving steal after making a costlyturnover.
“He doesn’t fear failure,” Wright said. “He has won so many games for us.There’s a few where he has not come through. That’s what makes you great. Itnever prevents him from not wanting the ball the next time. Every time he doessomething big the next time.”
Reynolds reached the 2,000-point milestone (2,008) in Tuesday’s win againstSeton Hall. Reynolds has a shot at setting the Villanova record for points, heldby Kerry Kittles (2,243). Reynolds and Kittles are the only Wildcats with atleast 2,000 career points and 400 assists.
Reynolds never would have dreamed about the scoring record had he kept hisname in the NBA draft last summer instead of returning for his senior season.
Wright said there were times early in Reynolds’ career when he fretted overhow a poor game might affect his NBA stock. Now, Reynolds is purely focused onwinning games and championships.
“Coach always tells us, just be here now,” Reynolds said. “That’s whatI’m trying to do.”
Here, for now, is atop the Big East standings.
Staying there might require some more indelible moments from Reynolds. TheWildcats hit the road for games Saturday at No. 7 Georgetown and Monday at No. 6West Virginia. There’s never a breather in the brutal conference schedule, butthe title could come down to Feb. 27 at Syracuse—a game that has already solda Carrier Dome record 34,616 tickets.
“We know we can go on this road trip and be second or third or fourth inthe Big East,” Wright said. “We have a lot of ‘ats.’ We know what we haveahead of us.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he didn’t expect any team to duplicate theCardinals’ 16-2 conference mark from a year ago—not even the Wildcats.
“Villanova is obviously a very good basketball team, but I do think they’restill going to take three, four losses,” he said.
Wright knows success in the tournament is found on the road. The Wildcatshope their last at is at Indianapolis—site of the Final Four and home of theIndianapolis Colts. It’s the kind of place where Chaney’s advice might come inhandy.
NCAA Daily http://www.ncaadaily.com/?p=3729 Villinova Living up to High Expectations, Chris Feb 04 2010