BOSTON -- It had to end like this, of course. March has a curious way of regressing to the mean. After running low on classic nail-biters, on arenas trembling, on cheerleaders weeping, suddenly Scottie Reynolds flashed down the court.
The junior guard threw himself into the lane and flipped it in with 0.5 seconds left, lifting Villanova over Pittsburgh, 78-76, and into its first Final Four since 1985 (BOX | RECAP).
"It's numbing when it happens, especially when the game ends like that. It really is," said Wildcats coach Jay Wright. "You're watching it on TV all the time and you think, wow, that must be the greatest feeling in the world. And it's just starting to hit me now."
For Pitt, though, this sort of denouement couldn't have been especially surprising. The previous three games were uncomfortably close. This one also had all the makings of an archetypal Big East brawl, with the serenely ruthless Levance Fields eventually sinking two free throws to tie it with only five ticks remaining.
But there was Reynolds flying past press row, and there was the lane: open all night to the Wildcats' hard-driving guards. As it happened, the moment was all but shining.
1. Quickness and balance are Villanova trademarks. Reynolds may have been the star, but he was actually one of four Wildcats in double digits, a familiar distribution for exceptionally democratic Villanova. Reynolds had 15, Shane Clark had 11, Dwayne Anderson had 17 and Dante Cunningham had 14. For good measure, the two Corey's -- Fisher and Stokes -- also tossed in nine and seven, respectively. "They continue to come at you," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Their quickness, their strength, their physicality. They're constantly into you." 'Nova isn't the biggest team -- the 6-foot-8 Cunningham plays the five, and quite well, apparently -- but that's how they like it over on the Main Line.
2. You can't quite fault The Big Three for Pitt's loss. Had Reynolds' shot rimmed out and Pitt won in OT, we'd likely be singing the song of senior Sam Young. The forward displayed his complete repertoire -- puppetmaster-like head-fake; fadeaway baseline jumper; three-pointer with 40 seconds remaining -- and dropped 28 points (on 10-for-17 shooting) to go along with seven boards.
DeJuan Blair, by the way? He turned in his fourth straight double-double (20 and 10) on 100 percent field-goal shooting (9-of-9, all lay-ups delivered with a soft touch). Credit Villanova for not allowing Pitt to feed the beast every time down the floor.
3. When the three-pointer failed them, the Wildcats turned to the closer line for salvation. Villanova isn't afraid to fire from long range, and they were hitting 36.1 percent on the season as a team. But at the half, Anderson, Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Fisher and Stokes combined to go 0-for-11 from beyond the arc.
No matter: on the night, the entire team finished 22 of 23 (95.7 percent) on their free throws. (The first miss came from Redding with 20 seconds left.) That margin ultimately mattered quite a bit -- the Panthers weren't shabby from the foul line either, hitting 72.4 percent (21 of 29) in as close a game as you'll find.
But let's also give two Pitt seniors their due. The stocky Fields, all 5-10 of him, definitively proved that he has ice water flowing through his veins. (Recall that he hit the game-winning three against Xavier on Thursday night.) And Young will certainly make some team happy as a first-rounder this June. "I've said all along [Young's] a guy who's gotten better every year," Dixon said. "And he seemed to get better as the season went on and down the stretch."
After emerging post-intermission, Young did layup lines with his iPod's white buds in his ears. Precisely what song he was listening to remains unclear (I personally wish to imagine Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart"), but wanting to drown out the crowd is understandable. The Wildcat faithful outnumbered Pitt fans at the TD Banknorth Garden approximately two-to-one.
Detroit, where they'll get the winner of North Carolina-Oklahoma. Tall orders, to be sure, but Villanova -- even leaving the Big East braggadocio aside -- simply doesn't shy away from physicality. They survived Blair and fear no one; given the streak they're on, they won't shy away from Tyler Hansbrough or Blake Griffin, either.