Savor the moment: these Wildcats are for real

Phil Consuegra

Well Villanova, this is it. There’s no looking back now. The brutal memories of phone card scandals, losses to Chaminade, NIT heartbreakers and the phrase “maybe next year” are now long since forgotten. We have now, officially, hit the big time.

We all think we’ve been in the big time for a while now, but as much as we’d like to think otherwise, Villanova needed this win, for respect, if not for anything else. The doubting Thomases were piling up, after tough wins against clearly inferior opponents were coming left and right. While UConn was trashing Seton Hall by 40, the Wildcats were barely getting by Marquette and having to play major comeback ball against St. Joseph’s. While the Wildcats were winning, the difficulty getting those wins made many “experts” scratch their heads. Maybe this win will make them stop. Maybe they’ll all finally realize: Villanova, the little team that could, a team that’s anchored in unity and trust for each other rather than a few key players, is actually for real.

Things can’t get much better right now for the ‘Nova Nation. A win against the top team in the country. A 9-0 record since the underachieving loss to Texas. Sole possession of the top of the Big East. A contract extension for the most charismatic coach in the nation. I’d say things are going pretty well on the Main Line – and in my opinion, if you ever thought they could, things will get even better in a few weeks.

Respect is now coming Villanova’s way, and it is well deserved. In January, after tough losses to West Virginia and Texas, along with close wins against Rutgers and South Florida, people began to doubt. The naysayers popped up everywhere, saying Villanova couldn’t play with the big boys, that their only game against a legitimate top ten team – Texas at that point – was a sloppy loss. That this “four guard lineup” maybe wasn’t such a hot idea. The ‘Cats weren’t for real, they said, and they weren’t playing top five basketball. But that was mid-January. If you’re going to play sloppy basketball, play it then.

Now it’s mid-February. Great teams go through a lull in the middle of the season, learning a few valuable lessons: how to win with grit and how tough it is to lose. And with those lessons comes an opportunity to turn things around before the real games begin. That’s exactly what the Wildcats have done, showing the nation that this team is right where it belongs: in the top five, looking at a No. 1 seed in the tournament. The small Catholic school from outside Philadelphia is now the top team in the top conference in the nation. The losses to West Virginia and Texas are now ancient history, the stories replaced by thrilling wins against Marquette, St. Joseph’s (I don’t care how bad they are, a rivalry win is huge at any point in a season) and then-top ranked UConn.

There really isn’t much more you can say about the win at the Wachovia Center against the previously top ranked team in the country, a team that most of the “experts” pick as the greatest thing since sliced bread. The only thing that I will add is that if you saw me at all this week, you saw an ear-to-ear smile, courtesy of the Villanova Wildcats. Words truly cannot explain the pride I felt in my school this past week. The team gave all of us one more memory on Monday, and they’re about to give us many more.

In college years, people come and go out of our lives, but the experiences always stay with us. These guys have given us something that nothing and no one can ever take away from us: experiences that will last a lifetime. Years from now, when we look back on our college lives, we will never forget this team. We won’t remember that bad exam grade or that one kid who had a problem with us. What we will remember was the opportunity to share the glory with a team that we consider not just guys on a basketball court, but our friends and our classmates. What we will remember are court rushes against Kansas and Boston College. Wins against the top conference in the nation. Lowry’s tip-in against Notre Dame. A-Ray’s 28-footer that made us go crazy. Sheridan’s incomparable intensity. Nardi’s birthday party against Louisville, where he was on fire. Fraser’s heart and determination. Sumpter’s strength to get through an injury. Foye’s journey from the streets of Newark to Villanova – and the way his story made its way into our hearts. Giving the “V” at the end of the game to a team that made us all feel the pride to just say that we’re from Villanova. And, of course, how could I forget about Wright’s suits?

This is what college is all about. Go crazy. Scream your lungs out. Make some memories. Take it from me – the four years are over in a heartbeat. We’ve hit the big time – now let’s go enjoy it, together as one community and as one school united behind a team that has made us so proud.