Thursday March 18th, 2010

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Leadership isn't a tangible quality, but like the proverbial definition of pornography, you know it when you see it.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright clearly didn't see enough of it from senior Scottie Reynolds leading up to today's first-round NCAA game with Robert Morris, benching his star guard (and fellow starter Corey Fisher) for the opening few minutes of the game. Wright did receive just enough leadership from Reynolds down the stretch, though, for the Wildcats to claim a tense 73-70 overtime win over Robert Morris, barely avoiding the fifth 15-over-2 upset in NCAA tournament history.

Neither player nor coach would specify, despite repeated postgame inquiries, precisely what Reynolds and Fisher did to find the pine. But no one blamed the lineup shakeup for Villanova's surprisingly ragged -- and, at times, passive -- effort.

"I don't really think so," Wright said, when asked if the benching affected Reynolds (who shot just 2-for-15 from the floor) and Fisher. "Believe it or not, they've both [had poor games together] before. And we've done this before in first-round games."

Yes, 'Nova was down double digits early in the second half last year to American in its NCAA opener, but that game had a different feel, with the Eagles shooting the lights out for 25 minutes before fading. Today, Villanova was simply outworked for most of the game by a sloppy-but-game Colonials squad that attacked the rim and hit the offensive glass, repeatedly exposing the Wildcats' interior defense in the same fashion Big East teams did in the final few weeks of the season.

There's not much 'Nova can do to mask that weakness. Instead, Wright, after crediting the Colonials' active, tightly packed defense, correctly pointed to his team's offensive impatience as the prime reason the Wildcats found themselves trailing by eight with under four minutes left.

"[The disappointment was in] our inability to penetrate the defense and make the extra pass to find the better shot," Wright said. "... I think each guy thought, 'I'm going to be the one who'll hit. I'm going to be the guy who gets us back. I'm going to be the one.' Even when we got [the game closer] early, before we got down eight, there were times we got it to two, we just rushed a shot."

The result was that 21 of Villanova's first 41 shots came from behind the arc. Reynolds finally got more aggressive down the stretch, repeatedly careening into the lane and drawing the whistle. Despite a few borderline calls that went against his team, Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice took the high road in his postgame comments, saying he thought his players started to let their offensive struggles down the stretch affect them defensively, and Reynolds exploited those openings to full effect.

Reynolds made six consecutive free throws -- part of nine straight 'Nova points from the line -- to help erase the Colonials' 55-47 lead. From the 12:34 mark of the second half, the 'Cats only attempted one three-pointer -- a huge make from Reynolds against the shot clock late in OT -- and Reynolds finished with 20 points, converting 15-of-16 from the line. With a strong assist from freshman big man Mouphtaou Yarou, who had a career day with 17 points and eight boards, it was enough -- barely -- to get Villanova onto the next round.

Asked one final time about what caused him to get benched, Reynolds demurred, saying simply, "As a leader, as a captain, as a starter, whatever you want to call it ... you have to be solid, you have to be excellent all the time."

Villanova and Reynolds were far from excellent on Thursday, but they were solid enough to survive.

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