Villanova and Pitt, Big East brethren turned derbying rivals for a spot in the Final Four, had been going back and forth in this East Regional title game. They seemed determined to provide an antidote to an NCAA tournament Week Two plagued by blowouts. By night's end, the two teams would have delivered 15 lead changes. Ten times the score would stand tied. Pitt had to deal with the second-half exit of
An officiating crew featuring two referees who hadn't worked a Big East game all season offered a further challenge: Which team would prove to be most adaptable to a new set of laws, to go off script?
With scarcely three minutes to play it looked as if Pitt would. The Panthers had seized a 67-63 lead after Dixon, who had gallantly returned, knocked down a three-pointer. After the Wildcats fumbled away the next possession, Villanova coach
Within a minute, 'Nova had stripped Dixon of the ball,
But the see-saw wasn't done wobbling.
Anderson came back with a three. 71-69 'Nova, 1:51 left.
And just when it looked as if the Wildcats would pull away -- they held a 76-72 lead with 20 seconds to play -- the real drama began.
To tie the score at 76, Fields sank a free throw on either side of a timeout that seemed to have been called in vain to ice him. In fact, Villanova used that timeout to plot Redding's redemption.
With :05.5 remaining on the clock, Redding's inbounds pass did indeed find Cunningham, this time at midcourt. Cunningham flipped the ball to Scottie Reynolds, who was streaking up the right sideline. Reynolds zagged into the lane, where he muscled up the winning basket.
The winning basket, it should be noted, only because all but a half-second now remained.
You could call this game the battle of the Big East arriviste coaches.
You could call it, for old time's sake, the
But most of all, you could call this a wonderful, wonderful game.
By the final minutes, Adams had taken that qualifier "probably" and found for it an appropriate receptacle, as had Reynolds on his last decisive sally to the hoop.
"Told you," Adams said. "Best game all year."