By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 29, 2009
BOSTON, March 29 -- In the span of five seconds, Scottie Reynolds changed his life forever. In five seconds, Reynolds created a highlight that will long be associated with NCAA tournament theatrics. The player who just three years ago wore a Herndon High jersey took the ball from Dante Cunningham as the game clock in Saturday's East Region final against Pittsburgh started ticking down from 5.5 seconds.
It was a designed play, one Coach Jay Wright has the Wildcats practice every day. Reynolds streaks around a big man and dribbles the ball up the court, this time speeding down the right sideline.
Three seconds, two seconds . . .
Reynolds rerouted toward the center of the lane, penetrating before hitting the brick wall of Pittsburgh's Gilbert Brown.
Left with no time and no space, Reynolds floated a layup that fell through the hoop with a half-second remaining.
The basket provided the deciding points in third-seeded Villanova's 78-76 win over top-seeded Pittsburgh. The Wildcats, who are in their first Final Four since 1985, became the second Big East team to reach college basketball's final weekend.
"I think every kid playing on the playground thinks about that," Reynolds. "You always want that shot to win the championship, to advance to the Final Four, some prestigious event. I did that tonight."
Holding a two-point lead with 11 seconds remaining, all Villanova needed was to inbound the ball and hit foul shots. But instead of a simple inbounds pass, Villanova's Reggie Redding heaved a football pass to the far end of the court. The ball went too deep and almost sailed out of bounds. Cunningham saved it, but could not maintain possession.
With a chance to tie the score, Pittsburgh had the ball in the hands of guard Levance Fields. Two nights earlier, Fields hit a three-pointer in the final minute against Xavier to send the Panthers to the region final. But before Fields could hit another dramatic three-pointer, he was fouled with 5.5 seconds remaining. Fields made both free throws to set up Reynolds's theatrics.
"When I made the free throws, it had a chance of going into overtime, and we just needed one stop," Fields said. "And we just didn't do what we needed to do in the five seconds. Reynolds just made a great play going to the basket. It went from being -- you know, having a chance of going to overtime and possible winning the game to season being over."
Villanova remained calm despite losing its lead. Reynolds knew how much time he needed and how to reach the rim.
"In that situation, you have four dribbles and a shot. That's five seconds," Reynolds said. "That goes through your head. You have to know the time, the score and the situation. That's why we go through it everyday in practice, so in that situation you can make an instinct play."
The game between two Big East teams epitomized the reputation that the conference established. The lane served as a virtual boxing ring, and Pittsburgh DeJuan Blair was the heavyweight. Blair, who is 6 feet 7 and 265 pounds, finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Panthers finished with 28 rebounds to Villanova's 33.
Yet Villanova (30-7) proved -- for the second time this season -- that it could match the bruising Panthers (31-5). The Wildcats hit 22 of their 23 free throws and were on the floor for every loose ball.
Earlier in the game, a loose ball escaped from Pittsburgh's end of the floor to Villanova's. Wildcats guard Corey Fisher chased after it with his eyes fixated on each bounce. As he reached the foul line and realized he could not catch up, Fisher dove across the floor and gained possession just before the baseline. Fisher passed the ball to the top of the key, where it was sent to Reynolds in the corner. Reynolds drove to the basket, finishing with a reverse layup. The shot gave Villanova the lead. More importantly, it was evidence of the audacity and tenacity that guided the Wildcats to the Final Four.
But the game will be remembered for the final 5.5 seconds. On this day 17 years ago, Duke's Christian Laettner hit a shot as the clock expired to beat Kentucky and send the Blue Devils into the Final Four -- a snapshot that remains on an NCAA tournament highlight reel. Reynolds said the moment had not yet sunk in, but he knew that his five seconds will be a similar part of history.
"It happened that we had the ball in the last second," Reynolds said. "We made the play to win it."