Questions cloud poor season’s end



David Cassilo

 Reaching the Final Four again was supposed to be inevitable. Villanova was returning star senior guard Scottie Reynolds, had a recruiting class that was the best in the school’s history and received a No. 5 ranking in the preseason poll.

By February, the Wildcats started 20-1 overall, 9-0 in the Big East, reached No. 2 in the polls and were well on their way to another deep run in March.

Then it fell apart. Villanova lost seven of its final 12 games and was bounced by St. Mary’s in the second-round of the NCAA tournament.

So, what happened?

“We just didn’t get clicking quickly enough,” Head Coach Jay Wright said.

The early part of the season wouldn’t seem to be the problem at all, but at least according to Wright, winning 20 of the first 21 games was a mirage.

“Up until February we were saying, ‘Guys, we’re not this good,'” Wright said. “It’s not going to be easy coming up at the end.”

As the team became mired in a slump, all of the problems that were hidden for three months were revealed. Suddenly, integrating six first-year players into a team that had Final Four aspirations looked as tough as it was.

“This was a year of great challenges for us,” Wright said. “No complaints. No excuses. Some teams have injuries. Some teams have other things. We just had a lot of little challenges.”

Aside from the addition of the six players, the team’s challenges arose in many different areas. 

It started with the arrest of senior guard Reggie Redding in July and subsequent suspension for the first semester.  

Next was overcoming the loss of freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou for 11 games after he was diagnosed with Hepatitis B.  

Eventually, it became one thing after another. Senior Jason Colenda left the team. Junior forward Antonio Peña, junior guard Corey Stokes and sophomore forward Taylor King were all benched at different points of the season.

Finally, Reynolds and junior guard Corey Fisher were benched to start the team’s first NCAA tournament game.

There was almost something new to deal with everyday, and it forced the team to make adjustments.

“In a way you could say it did affect us, but in other ways you could say it helped us too because it gave the younger guys a chance to play and give them experience,” Reynolds said.

While gaining experience was sometimes easy for the younger players, it was establishing the mindset that Reynolds and the rest of the seniors had that was difficult at times for the coaching staff.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated sometimes,” Wright said. “They’ve all had little stuff like coming to practice after you win a big game and thinking that practice is going to be easy today because you just won, instead of knowing we have to get a lot better.”

When the winning stopped, the players began to realize that things couldn’t continue the way they were going. The hot start was perhaps winning with talent rather than being the cohesive team that the group was a season ago.

Eventually, that idea hit the locker room.

“We can’t have everybody playing their own way of basketball,” Reynolds said. “It has to be everybody on the same page, and [Coach] is the guy we look to for that. We assessed it, and we started going in a different direction — the direction he wanted us to go in.”

In Wright’s eyes, it started to click very late — right after the win over Robert Morris to be specific. However, had they been able to survive the game against St. Mary’s, a return to the Final Four would not have been out of the question.

“We almost got there,” Wright said. “We just didn’t get good enough. We just ran out of time.”

With the number of new players, the suspension to Redding, the loss of Yarou and sporadic team defense, there are many reasons to point to for what contributed to falling short of a trip to Indianapolis, but the team isn’t using any of them.

“No excuses,” Wright said. “We have the talent to be a Final Four team, and we didn’t get there.”

It was an abrupt and disappointing end to the season from many perspectives. Reynolds’ career ended on an unexpected low note with two poor shooting performances and he fell short of leading his team back to the Final Four and reaching the school’s all-time scoring record.

Meanwhile, the team as a whole fell short of their own goals of winning a Big East and an NCAA championship, two things that appeared quite possible.

Like everything else that happens to the Wildcats, Wright will use this year’s disappointment as a teaching point for future, especially for the junior class.

“Some of the pain that comes with that is good for us,” Wright said. “This junior class really hasn’t felt much pain. Sweet 16. Final Four. Now we have to take the hit and feel the pain, and it is going to help us grow.”

While that pain still exists for those juniors, it is officially their team now, and it is on them to make sure that the team builds on everything that was accomplished this season.

“You can’t really go back and change what happened,” Fisher said. “All we have to do is get ready for next year.”