‘Cats fall short but have a season for the ages

Kyle Scudilla

One game last Sunday afternoon separated the Villanova Wildcats from college basketball royalty. The ‘Cats fought hard against a young, talented Florida Gators squad that had it clicking at the right time just two days after Villanova came from behind and eliminated Boston College with just seconds on the clock. The Wildcats knocked on the door to Indianapolis, but unfortunately, no one answered. But thus is the nature of the NCAA Tournament, where one game, one shot, one steal, or one rebound can launch a team to the promised land or take away a season of hope and months of work toward the ultimate goal. That’s why forty minutes of basketball that ended in disappointment should not – and will not – erase the memory of one of the greatest seasons in Villanova Wildcats history.

It was a tough task to narrow it down, but here are ten of the most memorable moments in a season full of highlights and history:

1. December 3, 2005: Foye, ‘Nova Beat Oklahoma, Silence the Critics (Well, Some Anyway…)

Coming into the season being chosen as the Big East favorites by the conference’s coaches and with a No. 5 AP ranking, the 2005-2006 Villanova Wildcats tipped off the year a confident bunch, despite the crushing news they received just before the season began. On the day of Villanova’s Hoops Mania, the team found out that because of an injury in practice, star senior forward Curtis Sumpter would be sidelined for potentially the entire season, and thus, the now-famous four-guard lineup was born. National analysts thought that without Sumpter’s post presence, the ‘Cats were too small to compete with the nation’s best. 6-foot-4 Randy Foye, thought otherwise, and filling in at Sumpter’s usual power forward position, dropped 32 points in front of Dick Vitale, a national television audience and a student section that had camped out hours before the game as the ‘Cats beat the Sooners’ tough frontline 85-74. Allan Ray added 21 points, and sophomore Kyle Lowry led a charge at the end of the first half that concluded with an unbelievable and-one reverse that almost blew the roof off of The Pavilion.

2. January 28, 2006: Lowry Catapults, Tips in Game Winner against Notre Dame

In a hard fought game against Notre Dame, one in which the ‘Cats trailed for good portions of the second half, it was the smallest player on the court that would make the biggest play of the night. With the score tied at 70, Foye drove to the hoop looking to help the ‘Cats escape the Fighting Irish’s upset bid. Foye’s shot missed, but out of nowhere, 6-foot Kyle Lowry out jumped 6-foot-9 Rob Kurz and 6-foot-11 Torin Francis to tip home the game-winner with 1.7 seconds left. Allan Ray, recovering from a strained hamstring, led Villanova with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Mike Nardi chipped in with 22 points.

3. February 4, 2006: Go-Ahead Three “Ray”-ns in Late as ‘Cats Comeback, Stun Marquette

Having already beaten the Connecticut Huskies earlier in the season, the Marquette Golden Eagles showed in their first season as a Big East team that they were solid contenders. That’s why when the Wildcats trailed for nearly the entire game, struggling with its perimeter shooting, ‘Nova Nation looked-on in a nervous fashion. Things finally started going the ‘Cats’ way as Villanova’s dynamic backcourt duo led a 12-0 run to give the Wildcats’ an improbable come-from-behind win. With 1:47 to go, the Wildcats finally got over the hump, when A-Ray nailed a three-ball from right wing, and ‘Nova never looked back. Ray ended the day with 28, and Randy Foye posted 24, as the nation’s best backcourt once again carried the Wildcats to victory in a tough conference game.

4. February 7, 2006: Wildcats’ Dunk-a-thon Wins the Holy War, Captures Big 5 Title

It was a tough Tuesday night at the Palestra for Villanova, as they walked to the locker rooms down 12 against arch-rival St. Joseph’s in the game that would determine who won Philadelphia basketball bragging rights. After looking incredibly uncomfortable offensively in the first half, Kyle Lowry, who finished with 25 points, led an amazing surge, scoring the first two buckets of the half that led to a 21-3 run that sealed the deal for the ‘Cats. Ray, Shane Clark, Lowry, and Will Sheridan all had huge dunks to bring ‘Nova’s half of the 50-50 split stands to complete eruption as their team was awarded the Big 5 Championship, after going undefeated against Penn, La Salle, Temple and St. Joe’s.

5. February 13, 2006: ‘Cats Collar Huskies at Wachovia

In the middle of February, it was clear that in the mighty Big East, there were two teams playing at an exceptionally high level: Villanova and the Connecticut Huskies. The two would finally meet for the first time this season in Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center, and it was immediately apparent that the arena was filled with a postseason atmosphere. Just when it looked like the No. 1 ranked Huskies were going to run away with the contest, going up by 12 in the second half, Allan Ray and the Wildcats exploded from the perimeter. Ray drilled three three-pointers in a matter of minutes to bring Villanova back to within striking range, and then off of a fast break, Mike Nardi connected on a pull-up three from the right wing that gave his team the lead. Villanova never looked back, sustaining their lead thanks in big part to Will Sheridan, who finished with a season-high 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against what many considered the best frontcourt in the nation. Shortly after Randy Foye hit a big three to give the ‘Cats breathing room down the stretch, Ray iced the game with a steal away from Marcus Williams and two clutch free throws. The fans at Wachovia rushed the court to celebrate the 69-64 win, Villanova’s first over a top-ranked squad in almost 11 years. ‘Nova Nation celebrated even further the next day, when Coach Jay Wright was signed to a seven-year contract extension.

6. February 23, 2006: Dante Sneaks ‘Nova Past Cincy

With the end of the season in sight, Villanova was busy putting the finishing touches on its NCAA Tournament resumé, but no one said it would be easy. ‘Nova had enjoyed as big as a 12 point lead, but the Bearcats, fighting for their tournament lives, clawed back into the game, and took the lead with less than a minute to go. Foye, who finished with 25 points, hit two big free throws to tie the game. After an offensive charge, Villanova had the ball back with the score knotted at 72. Off of an inbounds play under the hoop, freshman Dante Cunningham sprinted to the block and hit a lay up with 3.9 seconds to go, giving Villanova the hard-earned 74-72 win on the road.

7. March 1, 2006: Seniors Say Goodbye to the Pavilion

On what was an emotional night for all involved with Villanova basketball, The Pavilion said good-bye to seniors Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Jason Fraser, Chris Charles, Baker Dunleavy and Michael Claxton in a pre-game ceremony featuring the players’ families. As many expected, it was the pair of Ray and Foye that stepped up big to lead their Wildcats past St. John’s in the last game they would ever play at The Pavilion. Foye had 21 and Ray had 15, as ‘Nova rolled, 65-52.

8. March 7, 2006: ‘Nova’s Small Lineup Earns Huge Big East Honors

On the day before the Big East Tournament tipped off at Madison Square Garden, the Big East honored its best, and Villanova was well represented. ‘Nova took the top two honors, with Randy Foye being awarded Player of the Year and Jay Wright getting voted Coach of the Year. Foye was joined by Allan Ray on the All-Big East First Team, while Kyle Lowry earned a spot on the conference’s Second Team.

9. March 10-12, 2006: Ray Miraculously Heals as ‘Nova Nation Holds Its Breath

“I can’t see. I can’t see.” Terribly scary words heard at Madison Square Garden during the Big East Semifinals as Allan Ray was down on the ground after getting poked strongly right in the eye. Ray left for the hospital, ‘Nova lost to Pittsburgh, and the career of a Villanova legend and the team’s tournament hopes hung in the balance. Thankfully, the senior’s sight returned hours later, and he was medically cleared to play for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, in what many doctors considered an incredible stroke of luck. Ray was seen the next few days wearing sunglasses, prompting Coach Wright to say, “The only reason he’s wearing those sunglasses is because his future is so bright.”

10. March 12-26: Villanova Earns First No. 1 Seed, Marches to Elite Eight

Selection Sunday rolled around, and the committee granted the Wildcats something they had never had, a No. 1 seed. After defeating Monmouth and Arizona in Philadelphia in the first two rounds thanks to two strong performances by Ray, ‘Nova hit the road for Minneapolis. In the Sweet Sixteen, Villanova battled with a tough Boston College squad, as the ‘Cats came from behind to take the lead late in the game. The game eventually spilled into overtime, and it was there, with just three seconds left and ‘Nova trailing by one where Will Sheridan sprung free off of an inbounds play and put up a lay up that was goal tended, giving the ‘Cats a one-point lead and the win. Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1988, thanks in large part to Randy Foye’s dominant 29-point performance.

Villanova would unfortunately fall short against Florida, being the fourth and final number one seed eliminated from the tournament. Despite the outcome of this game, the ‘Cats have much to be proud of, with all the history they created and awards they won. Allan Ray and Randy Foye leave Villanova as All-Americans, with Ray having topped the 2,000-point mark to put him among Villanova’s elite scorers, and Jason Fraser, despite all the setbacks and bad luck he’s had, ended his college career just as he should have: proudly displaying the Villanova uniform while making big contributions in the most important game of the ‘Cats’ season. ‘Nova Nation bids this wonderful group of seniors a fond farewell. The University was grateful to have a set of players with an unprecedented level of talent and class.