Wildcats To Face Road Atmosphere Against Houston


Courtesy of F. Carter Smith/Paper City Magazine

Many Houston fans expected to make the three-hour drive to San Antonio for Saturday’s matchup.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

SAN ANTONIO — Villanova head coach Jay Wright has never shied away from giving his team tests on the road. Less than a week into the season, Wright had the Wildcats pack their bags and head cross country for a late night showdown with then #2 UCLA, and less than a month later, the team traveled to Waco to take on a Baylor squad about to earn the #1 ranking in the AP Poll. Wright billed it as preparing Villanova for the teams it’d face later in the year, in the Big East’s most hostile environments and in the NCAA Tournament, but little did he know that Villanova’s most important road game would come on a “neutral” court.

“You think about it one game at a time, and we never thought about it until I started watching that game last night when our game was over,” Wright said. “Then it hit me. Like wow, we’re in for it, man.”

Villanova earned a trip to the Elite Eight with a 62-55 win over No.11 Michigan, but the game served as a warm up for the fans packing the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Fans appreciated the efforts of the Wildcats, but when the final buzzer sounded on the Villanova win, the crowd roared, some because the Wildcats advanced, but most cheered because it meant the undercard was over and the main event was about to begin.

The night’s second matchup featured the region’s top-seeded team, No.1 Arizona, but mostly it served as an opportunity for No.5 Houston to advance to the Elite Eight in front of its own fans. The arena was filled with the red of the Coogs, and they knocked off the Wildcats, 72-60, 18,851 fans made the supposedly neutral venue sound like the 7,035 who pack the Fertitta Center in Houston.

“The energy was just electric,” Houston sophomore guard Jamal Shead said postgame. “It was awesome to have that type of crowd here. We’re going deep in the playoffs, but it was just electric out here.”

For weeks, it looked as if Villanova was setting itself up for a home regional, playing just three games in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center so that the Wildcats could potentially be placed in the East Regional, playing its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups just 14 miles from campus. When placed in the South instead, Villanova was given the opposite task, now faced with the challenge of knocking off an elite team on a court it has made its home. 

“Everywhere we go, we can tell the intensity of the crowd,” Wright said. “People tell you, like this is the biggest game. It’s the hottest ticket. … I think it’s something that sometimes I feel sorry for our guys. I don’t tell them, but sometimes I’m like they have no idea how big this is to the people we’re playing against. They’re just playing, right? But I think they realize in this game how good Houston is, and they watched that game last night, and they know the environment, and they know how important this game is.”

Houston Athletic Director Chris Pezman and University President Renu Khator both encouraged their supporters to make the three hour drive from Houston to San Antonio to support their school, and players said the same.

“If everybody could show up in San Antonio and support us, that would be great,” graduate center Josh Carlton said. “That’s just another advantage for us.”

Both Villanova and Houston are considered the class of their conferences, and every road game is an opportunity for the opposition to claim an upset. Facing a road game in the NCAA Tournament is different, but Wright expects his players to be prepared.

“I think they know what they’re going to be in for.”