BOSTON – Head down and driving for the season, driving for Detroit, driving through a collapsing double team, to the rim, for the win Scottie Reynolds delivered a shot for the ages and Villanova to the Final Four.
He delivered history: Villanova 78, Pitt 76.
The school that 24 years ago became the greatest upstart, upset-fueled NCAA champion, a lowly No. 8 seed, returns to the Final Four thanks to a final-second floater that'll be replayed forever.
"Well, I just made a lay-up," Reynolds laughed after.
That was long after hugs were exchanged and tears were shed and smiles were shared throughout the fan base of the small Catholic school in the Philly suburbs. They've got a fine program at Villanova, but this isn't one of those athletic factories that churns out title contenders every year. They maintain a unique expectation on the Main Line; the athletes have to be actual students.
They've never bent on that. Jay Wright, the dapper, personable coach, has never complained about it either; never sought greener pastures or paychecks, never pressured the school to change its principled ways to be better on the court, but worse off of it.
Together they've embraced it while never giving up hope that a night like this, a shot like Reynolds', a chance like next week could happen again. Over 24 seasons they've learned to appreciate good without selling out for great and now the patience has been rewarded.
Villanova is back, perhaps in a once-again Big East-dominated Final Four. While they're a respectable No. 3 seed this time, they're the underdog nonetheless.
"It's kind of eerie how this is playing out," Wright smiled. "I hope to God, history repeats itself."
Maybe that's why Reynolds was sobbing into Wright's designer suit afterward. Or why delirious fans roared out of TD Banknorth Garden into the New England night. Or why Wright spent so much celebration time seeking out figures from the stands, recognizing the anonymous, pointing to the last row and flashing a V sign. He wanted everyone in on this, the entire Nova Nation, which based on an enrollment of just over 6,000, makes it one of the smaller ones in the big-time college ranks.
Over at the edge of the Garden stands, as he was wandering around looking for people to hug, he found Rollie Massimino. The Wildcat coaches past and present embraced and shouted through the din that they loved each other.
Wright had worked Massimino's camps when he was a young player at Bucknell. Wright's wife, Patricia, had been a cheerleader at Nova in the early 1980s. Massimino had made sure both were in Kentucky that magical 1985 weekend the Wildcats shocked the basketball world.
"The thing with Rollie is, everybody was in the family," Wright said.
So Wright was trying to repay his mentor, trying to lead Massimino out on the court for the celebration, maybe get up a ladder for a clip of the net himself. The man who gave Villanova its greatest moment shook his head.
"I think he was kind of thinking, 'That's your time.' " Wright said.
Wright doesn't see it that way; that's just not him. He's a unique personality in the coaching ranks, almost impossible to dislike. He's competitive, for sure, but he's never measured his worth based on the bounce of a ball. Earlier this year he mentioned that reaching a Final Four wasn't a goal of his and caught some heat for it.
People misunderstood him though. He knows that had Levance Fields hit a 70-foot Pitt prayer right after Reynolds rolled his shot in, then the emotions would've been different. And he'd have been no less of a coach, Villanova no less of a place.
"All I was worried about was if we lost that game, I wanted to make sure Reggie Redding [who made a bad pass for a critical last minute turnover] felt good about himself," Wright said.
"What you can do for other people is the greatest, and that's what I feel great about," Wright said of the satisfaction of making this happen. "They're so happy. They're happier than me, way happier than me."
College basketball is cutthroat business, a corner-cutting game. The Final Four is the justification. The championships and the accolades and the money are the fuel. It's win-at-all-costs, ruined reputations included.
Wright has maintained perspective; he has projected an image of a true family, with classy people and proud students. When Reynolds' original college choice, Oklahoma, fell apart due to a coaching change, the player looked around for something real.
It was late in the recruiting period, all the frivolous stuff no longer mattered. He understood what did. He wanted Villanova. He wanted Jay Wright.
"It was that easy," Wright said of a McDonald's All-American. "We totally lucked out."
It doesn't happen by luck. Just as Reynolds' floater doesn't find the bottom of the net for that reason. One begat the other, the family feel of Villanova drawing in Wright when he was the hot mid-major coach and keeping him as the Kentuckys of the world batted their eyes. It was Wright embracing the place to the fullest and a young, free-agent recruit understanding why it was special.
It was everything going full circle, Rollie trying to include Wright, Wright trying to include Rollie, a roster full of young players mesmerized by them both.
Now the entire mini-Nova nation is heading back to the Final Four, heading back to the 1980s, heading back to take another sling shot at the Goliaths of the game.
- Scottie Reynolds
- Jay Wright
- Rollie Massimino