Minneapolis notebook: Ray of light
By Ken Davis, Special to Yahoo! Sports
March 14, 2006
No one in this NCAA Tournament deserves a second chance more than Villanova guard Allan Ray.
Fortunately for Ray and the Wildcats, they received good news on Monday.
The Wildcats couldn't have hoped for a better report after a second eye specialist examined Ray, who was accidentally poked in the right eye by Pittsburgh guard Carl Krauser while diving for the ball in the second half of Friday's Big East tournament semifinal loss to the Panthers.
When Ray fell to the floor at Madison Square Garden, he could be heard yelling, "I can't see." After the game, Villanova coach Jay Wright said he was initially told that the injury was serious, but the prognosis became more optimistic in the early hours of Saturday morning when Ray was discharged from St. Vincent's Hospital in New York. An eye specialist confirmed Saturday that Ray had sustained a soft-tissue injury.
Ray's teammates were clearly shaken and had trouble focusing on the remainder of the game against Pittsburgh. Their concern wasn't the 68-54 loss to Pitt but the health of their teammate.
The Villanova program has been beset with injuries during Wright's five years as coach. His calm demeanor and ability to adjust has helped the Wildcats deal with adversity. But losing Ray, who averages 19 points a game, would have been a serious setback for a team seeded No. 1 in the Minneapolis region.
Even without forward Curtis Sumpter, who was lost for the season in October with a knee injury, the Wildcats have put themselves in position for a run at the national championship. Wright turned to a four-guard lineup that led Villanova to a share of the Big East regular-season championship with Connecticut.
Wright employed the same strategy in the regional semifinals of last year's NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats battled eventual national champion North Carolina but lost 67-66 in one of the tourney's most thrilling games.
Ray was involved in the most memorable play in the loss to the Tar Heels. He was called for traveling with nine seconds remaining as he drove into the lane with North Carolina leading 66-63. When official Tom O'Neill blew his whistle, it first appeared a foul would be called on UNC's Rashad McCants, but as Ray waited to see if his bank shot would be counted, O'Neill made the traveling call. Villanova's hopes for an upset essentially ended there.
Ray handled himself with class after the controversial call.
"We never should have put ourselves in that position anyway," he said. "I can't say that's why we lost the game."
Wright has taught his players never to make excuses. Maybe that's why they have been able to cope with so many challenges the past four years. Now, with Ray able to play, the Wildcats can make a run at the Final Four.
CINDERELLA RETURNS: Wisconsin-Milwaukee hopes the slipper fits again this year. The Panthers, who upset Alabama and Boston College in last season's tourney on the way to the Sweet 16, will find out quickly with a first-round game against Oklahoma in Jacksonville, Fla.
The big difference for the Horizon League champions is the head coach – former Wisconsin assistant Rob Jeter, who replaced current Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. The Panthers start five seniors (four from last year's team) including forward Joah Tucker, who scored 32 points against Illinois in last year's Sweet 16 loss.
Jeter has tournament experience as an assistant under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin. He played his first season at UW-Milwaukee reasonably close to the vest but loosened up a bit after an 87-71 victory over Butler gave the Panthers their automatic bid.
Asked if he had any dance moves to show off at the "big dance," Jeter replied: "That's how I met my wife at a party. She liked to feel my moves, I guess."
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The folks down on Tobacco Road couldn't have imagined Boston College challenging for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship when they coaxed the Eagles out of the Big East. But BC must have gained some respect after battling Duke and losing 78-76 Sunday in Greensboro, N.C.
"I think they're a Final Four-caliber team," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the Eagles, the No. 4 seed in the Minneapolis region.
BC coach Al Skinner told The Boston Globe he didn't think the Eagles were crashing the ACC party.
"We're all part of a new league and you might as well get used to this," Skinner said.
Ken Davis, a longtime college basketball writer for the Hartford Courant, is covering the NCAA Tournament exclusively for Yahoo! Sports from Jacksonville, Fla., this week and Atlanta next week.
Updated on Tuesday, Mar 14, 2006 2:26 am, EST