Wildcats Return To Sweet 16
March 19, 2006
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - With Rollie Massimino looking on proudly, Villanova rekindled memories of its 1985 championship season.
The Wildcats (27-4) advanced to play fourth-seeded Boston College (28-7) Friday. Villanova lost last season to eventual national champion North Carolina in the regional semifinal.
"We could sense here in Philly that everyone here expected us to advance out of this," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I was really concerned about it."
Top-seeded Villanova had everything going its way, building a 12-point lead while the hometown crowd cheered and Massimino watched.
Villanova, though, simply couldn't put away a scrappy Arizona team. In their two games in Philadelphia (20-13), the Wildcats looked nothing like the team that stumbled through a subpar regular season - by their lofty standards - in the Pac-10.
With Foye and Ray doing damage from outside, and Will Sheridan and Dante Cunningham chipping in underneath, Villanova built a 12-point second-half lead that nearly crumbled completely in the final minutes.
"It was like a home game for us," Foye said. "When you needed a stop, you heard the crowd. I was important for us down the stretch."
Arizona's Ivan Radenovic made a layup and Hassan Adams made two free throws with 1:36 left that cut the gap to 76-74. Foye sank two free throws, but missed two more on the next trip down to keep it a four-point game and put the fans at a packed Wachovia Center on their feet.
Arizona went to Radenovic again, and his basket with 16.8 seconds to go made it 78-76. Mustafa Shakur's layup with 8.5 seconds pulled Arizona to 80-78, but it didn't have enough time to finish the comeback and become the first No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 since Alabama beat Stanford in 2003.
Marcus Williams scored 24 points, Shakur had 21 and Adams 20 for Arizona.
"I thought we played as well as we can play," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "Credit Villanova for having that extra little bit that made the difference."
Forget little. It was Villanova's big men that made an impact in this one.
Often forgotten in Villanova's four-guard lineup, Cunningham and Sheridan were sensational and formed a rare low-post presence for the Wildcats. Sheridan had 16 points, Cunningham grabbed a career-high nine rebounds and both seemed to score or defend exactly when Villanova needed a clutch play.
"I was getting good looks because teams focus so heavily on our guards," Sheridan said. "It's definitely big for our team. It just shows we have other options."
Shakur, the Philly native who strongly considered playing for Villanova, sank a 3 that cut the double-digit deficit to 58-57 midway through the second half and gave Arizona momentum for a possible upset.
Sheridan had a thunderous dunk, Foye hit a little fallaway jumper, and a block by Cunningham set up Ray's 3-pointer on the other end for a 65-57 lead.
"For a freshman, that was a great play, just having the confidence to go up there and make a play like that at that time in the game," Ray said of the block. "He went up and challenged him and made a great play."
Adams, who missed two games in the Pac-10 tournament after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, then scored six straight points to help Arizona start its late rally.
"Around this time, we came together more than any team I played with," Adams said. "We wanted to get it done real bad."
With Massimino smiling and waving to the crowd that cheered his picture on the big screen, it was a nice reminder of when his players shocked college basketball by defeating mighty Georgetown for the title.
The difference is, those Wildcats were an unheralded eight seed that no one expected to win a title. This Villanova team has been ranked in the top 10 all season and shared the Big East regular-season championship.
Villanova also needed to knock off a No. 1 seed in '85, Michigan, but Foye made sure there was no 8-over-1 upset in this one. Perhaps playing at the Wachovia Center - where it finished 5-0 this season - gave Villanova just the edge it needed.
Olson said he didn't want his complaint to sound like "sour grapes," after a loss, but he questioned the NCAA's decision to place top seeds so close to home.
"I think this is a great tournament, but I think it's something the tournament committee needs to look at," he said.
Foye was phenomenal in the first half, scoring 20 points. He sank consecutive 3-pointers that snapped a tie game and finally got a raucous rise out of what had been a dormant home crowd and helped the Wildcats take a 42-35 lead at the break.
"We loved being here," Wright said. "It was great being comfortable here."
Not even a spunky Arizona team could make Villanova feel that uneasy.