Written BY Dick Weiss
NY DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
BOSTON - Scottie Reynolds was still clutching the game ball in the locker room Saturday night, long after his runner with half a second left lifted third-seeded Villanova to its first Final Four berth since winning it all in 1985.
And he wasn't about to let go.
"I'm going to hold on to that ball for a long time," the Wildcats' star junior guard said after Villanova's 78-76 victory over top-seeded Pittsburgh in the East Regional final. "I think they're going to take it, but they're going to have to wrestle me for it.
"After the game, I kept asking, 'Where's the ball? Where's the ball.' Our assistant AD Bob Steitz gave it to me. I've always seen Michael Jordan take the ball and run off the court after big games. I always wanted the ball if we advanced and I have it now."
Reynolds made a shot for the ages that will be replayed over and over again in highlight reels every March. He took a flip pass from Dante Cunningham near halfcourt and drove past multiple defenders into the lane, overcoming Gilbert Brown's hand in his face to drain the winner.
"Oh man, it's so many emotions going through my mind," he said. "It's something you think about as a youngster, advancing to the Final Four or winning the championship."
Villanova (30-7) became the second Big East team to qualify for a spot in the Final Four, joining West Regional champion UConn.
The Wildcats will play the winner of Sunday's South Regional final between North Carolina and Oklahoma in the national semifinals on Saturday in Detroit.
This was a game that epitomized the Big East. It was an instant classic, with 10 ties and 16 lead changes, and looked like it was headed for overtime after Xaverian product Levance Fields drained a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining to tie the game at 76 after a sloppy inbounds play set up the Panthers for the opportunity.
Pitt had no timeouts left and neither did Villanova. The Panthers (31-5) pressured the inbounds pass, making it difficult for Reggie Redding to find an open man.
"It looked for a minute like they were having trouble getting it in," Fields said. "If it had been one more second it probably could have been a five-second call. At the last second, he was able to get the ball to Cunningham. I guess Jermaine Dixon (Pitt's best on the ball defender) turned the wrong way, which gave Scottie stepping room. Cunningham made a good pass to Reynolds."
Reynolds, who was selected the Regional's Most Outstanding Player, had the presence of mind to drive straight to the basket, absorbing some contact as he hoisted the decisive shot.
"We run that play in practice," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "And it never works."
This time, it did, with the clock showing zeroes. The officials reviewed the play and put 0.5 seconds back on the clock, giving Pitt one last chance. Fields' desperation heave from 70 feet hit the top of the backboard, sparking a wild celebration by Villanova.
Wright immediately ran over to hug his wife Patti and three children, then made his way over to the stands to embrace former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, who coached the Wildcats to their only national title in 1985 and hired Wright as an assistant.
"He told me, 'I'm so proud of you.I'm so happy,'" Wright said. "He's emotional. I was emotional. He said, 'I love you' and I told him I love him. And it means the world to have him here."
Senior forward Dwayne Anderson led the Wildcats with 17 points, making a clutch three-pointer that gave Villanova a 71-69 lead with 1:42 to play. Reynolds had 15 points, while Cunningham added 14 points and five rebounds.
Sam Young scored 28 points for the Panthers, and 6-7, 265-pound sophomore behemoth DeJuan Blair had 20 points and 10rebounds.
The Pitt players, as expected, were crushed, and Panthers coach Jamie Dixon began to crack when he talked about Young and Fields, his senior leaders.
Wright could feel for him.
"This group earned this," Wright said. "We could have lost this game, but they still would have earned the right to be good enough to play in the Final Four, just like Pitt did. Pitt is good enough to be in the Final Four. We just happened to win the game."