PHILADELPHIA – During Villanova's team dinner on Friday night, coach Jay Wright stood up to make a speech, a plea to his players to remember how they preferred to play basketball. They were a Big East team, and Big East teams play with an edge.
"It was our you're-gonna-have-to-kill-us-to-beat-us mentality," junior guard Scottie Reynolds said. "If we go down, we're going to go down playing our way."
If anything, the Wildcats' Big East schedule – the grueling 18 games and the physical cost that comes with winning a game in the nation's best conference – might be the reason they make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. It was certainly the reason Villanova, seeded third in the East region, handled UCLA with such ease Saturday, 89-69, in the second round at the Wachovia Center. The Wildcats (28-7) outrebounded the Bruins 39-26, scored 46 points in the paint, and had six players score in double figures. Dante Cunningham led them with 18 points.
More, Reynolds established the nature and tone of the game in its earliest moments, fouling UCLA senior guard Darren Collison on a breakaway layup and leaving Collison with a bloody lip.
"We're not going up to foul them, but we want to go after the ball, block shots, contest every shot," Wright said. "I think that's where it set the tone – not for the other team, for us. Our guys have to know everybody is in this. Scottie Reynolds, 30 seconds into a game, whatever that was, goes to block a shot, and he doesn't give up an easy basket. He's showing, 'I don't care how many fouls I get, but they're not getting easy baskets.' "
The style seemed to unsettle the sixth-seeded Bruins (26-9), whose second-round exit from the tournament was their earliest since 2005. Not long after Reynolds fouled him, Collison put his arm around referee John Cahill during a stoppage of play and lobbied him to mind the way the Wildcats were playing. The score was still tied at the time, but Collison's meeting with Cahill was a sure sign that the Bruins had little desire to meet the measure of Villanova's toughness.
"They were a physical team; we're a physical team," Collison said. "It's nothing we haven't seen in the Pac-10. We just didn't get the recognition in the Pac-10 for physicality. The Big East is the main conference that gets credit for being physical. But I was just talking to the official because I thought they was fouling a little bit too hard. Maybe I was getting frustrated. But we got to be able to bounce back from that. We see how they're playing, and we've got to be able to match their intensity and match their physicality."
– Mike Sielski is the sports columnist for Calkins Media, a chain of daily newspapers in suburban Philadelphia.