Gators end ‘Cats dream season

Paul Martucci

Randy Foye, the tallest guard in Villanova’s untraditional four-guard starting lineup, has matched up with players as big and powerful as Boston College’s Craig Smith, Texas’s P.J. Tucker and Connecticut’s Josh Boone. This past Sunday, however, Foye and the Wildcats were unable to stop Joakim Noah and the Florida Gators.

Leading all Florida scorers with 21 points, the 6-foot-11 sophomore led the Gator attack to a 75-62 victory and a ticket to Indianapolis for the 2006 Final Four. Foye, who led the ‘Cats throughout the postseason, led all scorers with 25 points but failed to earn Villanova the win.

In the Sweet 16, the Wildcats took on the Eagles of Boston College, a team who just this year moved from the Big East to the Athletic Coast Conference (ACC). The familiar foes faced off twice last season, with Boston College winning by one in Massachusetts and Villanova winning by six in Pennsylvania.

This match-up – the first between the two schools this season – pitted the Eagles’ strength and size against the ‘Cats speed and athleticism. Many experts were excited about this game as both teams were predicted as national championship contenders.

Boston College started the Sweet 16 showdown by jumping out to a 9-0 lead as Villanova had a difficult time finding its shot. Both Foye and Allan Ray struggled to find their shot early against a smothering Eagle defense, but the Wildcats’ defense made up for the offensive woes, holding Boston College to 28 first half points. Despite a low shooting percentage, ‘Nova trailed by only four at the halftime buzzer, 28-24.

Villanova jumped out in the second half, scoring the first four points to tie the game at 28. The Eagles, however, failed to falter. As Smith, the Eagles forward, began to hit some shots, the Eagles easily surged back to a nine point lead with only nine minutes left in the game.

With the game seemingly swinging in Boston College’s favor, the ‘Cats somehow found an extra life.

Fueled by two three-point baskets by Ray, three points from Kyle Lowry and two from Will Sheridan, the ‘Cats erased a nine point lead and were down by just one point with four minutes to play. While Boston College attempted to cling to its small lead, Foye scored six of his game-high 29 in the final three minutes to erase the deficit and give the ‘Cats a 51-48 lead.

“I knew if we lost this game, it was going to be my last game,” Foye said. “I wanted to keep playing. I just wanted to keep playing.”

The Eagles responded, however, with a three-point basket from Jared Dudley with under 30 seconds to play to tie the game at 51 and bring it to overtime.

In an evenly matched extra five minutes of play, neither team led by more than three. The Eagles scored eight points, with Smith and Dudley each netting four. Smith’s final basket seemed to be a decisive game winner, as he sunk a short shot with 12 seconds to play to give Boston College the one point lead.

Despite being seemingly dead, the Wildcats found yet another life, as with only five seconds left, Lowry found a wide open Sheridan on an inbounds play under the basket. The defense of Boston College attempted to collapse on the shot, as the team’s best shot blocker, Sean Williams, was able to knock it away from the rim.

The Williams block came as the ball was coming downward, however, so the referees called goaltending and counted the basket, giving the Wildcats a grueling 60-59 overtime victory over the Eagles.

“It was one of the biggest shots in my career,” Sheridan said after the game, “and I didn’t get to make it.”

The win propelled ‘Nova to the Elite Eight where the team took on a young Florida Gators team that had recently defeated Georgetown in its Sweet 16 contest.

The Gators and the ‘Cats, scoring quickly right from the start, played a close first seven minutes, as Florida led 14-12. A three-minute scoring drought for Villanova led to an 11-0 Florida run, putting Florida ahead by eight. Although the Wildcats would cut that margin down to a mere three points with 11 and half minutes remaining in the second half, another three-minute scoring drought put the Gators back up by eight. From there, the cardiac ‘Cats were unable to muster yet another comeback as the clock turned to zero, ending a magical season.

“Everybody was crushed,” coach Jay Wright said. “I told them to just cry. Everybody let it out. It’s supposed to hurt. I’m so proud of them.”

Despite failing to make the Final Four, the 2005-2006 Villanova basketball season brought a slew of unprecedented accomplishments that should not be forgotten.

The Wildcats, finishing the season at 28-5, recorded the most wins ever in a single season in the history of Villanova basketball, earning them the Big 5 Championship and a share of the regular season Big East title. The record for the highest attendance at a college basketball game in Pennsylvania was set against Syracuse on Jan. 21 at 20,581, then broken against Connecticut on Feb. 13 with an attendance of 20,859.

The win over UConn marked Villanova’s first victory over a top-ranked team in almost 11 years. Villanova’s No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament was the program’s first No. 1 seed in its history.

The individual accomplishments are equally impressive. Allan Ray set a school record by sinking eight three-pointers against Lehigh. Randy Foye scored a career-high 32 points against Oklahoma. Kyle Lowry scored a career-high 28 points against Rutgers in the regular season, while Will Sheridan scored a career-high 17 points against Rutgers in the Big East Tournament.

Randy Foye was also named to the AP All-American First Team while Allan Ray was named to the AP All-American Third Team. Both made the All-Big East First Team and Lowry made the All-Big East Second Team. Foye was also awarded the Big East Player of the Year.

Coach Wright, after the loss to Florida, said, “I know it hurts for everybody, but I really want to make sure this group feels great about itself. They love Villanova, they love that experience, and Villanova loves them.”