Yes, it really was this season that Villanova was rolling and thinking about a Big East title. The Wildcats hit No. 5 in the poll. They were 16-1. They knocked off tournament-bound teams.
Then came the collapse. For the second year in a row.
Villanova’s 61-57 loss to George Mason in the East region Friday was the final dismal defeat of a second half full of them. The Wildcats end the season on a six-game losing streak. Their last win? Try an overtime victory Feb. 19 against DePaul, the team that finished last in the Big East.
“I’m glad I’m not a pro coach,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “If I was a pro coach, I’d probably get fired for this season.”
Wright has no reason to worry about his job security. He might try to figure out why the Wildcats fell into a second-half swoon for the second straight season.
The Wildcats started 20-1 last year before a 2-5 finish to the regular season. They still earned a No. 2 seed in the tournament, but lost to Saint Mary’s.
Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher and Antonio Pena started their careers with trips to the round of 16 and the Final Four. The three seniors end them without escaping the tournament’s first weekend their last two years.
The trio took heat from fans and the media late in the season for their role in the collapse, but Wright stood by them to the end.
“They’ve had great careers, and they’ve handled themselves with just great dignity off the court and on the court,” Wright said. “They’ve battled to the last second.”
REF RETURNS: Jim Burr, one of the officials who withdrew from the Big East tournament after missing key late-game calls, was on the crew for the Arizona-Memphis game on Friday.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner hadn’t seen a replay, but his first impression was that the final sequence was officiated correctly.
“I thought actually Jim Burr reffed a good game. I have no problems with Jim Burr,” Pastner said. “I thought the crew was good. … I had no problems with Jim Burr reffing our game, and the bottom line is Arizona hit some shots late and they deserved to win.”
Burr has worked 16 Final Fours and seven national championship games. But in the closing 1.7 seconds of a 65-63 win by St. John’s over Rutgers, he and his crew failed to notice when a player traveled and stepped out of bounds. The Big East admitted the errors and the crew pulled out of the tournament.
This time, the situation wasn’t so clear-cut.
“Honestly, with a second or two left on the shot clock, most refs don’t call that type of foul, especially when you’re trying to make a hard play on the ball,” Williams said.
“Earlier in the game they might have called it a foul just because he did fall on the ground. But late in the game, most refs don’t call that. That’s why I went up so hard to try to block it and save the game.”
GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Long after Jimmer Fredette has left Brigham Young and some new group of overacheivers has taken the reins at Gonzaga, these two teams will be part of an important rivalry.
None of those games in the future, however, figures to be more important than their very first meeting Saturday.
No. 11 Gonzaga plays No. 3 BYU with a trip to the final 16 on the line _ the first of many games to come between these two prominent programs that will become way more familiar when BYU joins Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference after this season.
Last year, BYU decided it would drop out of the Mountain West after 2010-11 to become an independent in football. The Cougars ended up in the WCC for the rest of the sports _ a big boost for a conference that has long been headlined by Gonzaga and yet another reminder that it’s football, not hoops, that really runs the show when it comes to big-time college sports.
BYU coach Dave Rose conceded he didn’t have much input into the move and hasn’t thought about it much, as his tough final season in the Mountain West has worn on.
“I remember sitting with Frank Martin of Kansas State and Steve Fisher, Lon Kruger during some events over the spring and summer, and we were all kind of looking at each other, wondering what league we might end up in as far as football alignment is concerned,” Rose said.
Gonzaga, meanwhile, will have a much tougher time keeping its WCC dominance alive. The Zags have 11 straight regular-season titles. Since 1992, they’ve won 227 conference games _ that’s 72 more than the next team, Santa Clara.
“It changes our league dramatically,” coach Mark Few said. “It adds another top-25 school to it, gives us another school much like ourselves with a national profile. I think it probably across the country enlightens some people to the level of play that’s in our league. I think people will probably look at it as a three-bid-potential league, year in and year out.”
NUMBERS GAME: Oakland coach Greg Kampe thinks he’s figured out how Texas slipped in the seedings.
Kampe didn’t hide his shock when Texas was announced as a No. 4 seed. He was even more surprised when his Golden Grizzlies were seeded 13th _ drawing the Longhorns in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“They say they were probably a 3, but they wanted them in Tulsa, so they moved them,” Kampe said after Oakland’s late comeback fell short in Texas’ 85-81 win Friday. “They say you can move a line either way for a home site. And unfortunately for us, this is a team that could win games.”
Kampe, who praised the Longhorns as a national championship contender, has now faced three powerhouses in his three trips to the tournament with Oakland. The Summit League champs lost to eventual champion North Carolina in 2005 and No. 1 seed Pittsburgh last year.
With Summit League Player of the Year Keith Benson at center, Kampe scheduled a difficult nonconference slate this season that included games at Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State. The Golden Grizzlies (25-10) lost by one to Michigan State on Dec. 11 and won at Tennessee on Dec. 14.
Kampe thought that was enough to earn a higher seed, but he wasn’t focused on that after Friday’s loss. Instead, he was looking at life after the departing Benson, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds against Texas.
“Is it another step? Yes, yes, it is,” Kampe said. “But right now doesn’t feel like it. Right now it feels like I’ve got to say goodbye to Keith Benson. How am I going to say goodbye? It’s like losing your wife or something.”
Instead, Proffitt elected to transfer to Morehead State. It’s a decision that’s turned out quite, well, profitable as the junior guard helped guide the 13th-seeded Eagles to a 62-61 win over No. 4 Louisville on Thursday in the tournament’s biggest upset so far.
“Very happy with my decision,” said Proffitt, who switched schools in 2008 simply so he could be closer to his hometown of London, Ky. “These guys would do anything in the world for me and I’d do anything in the world for them. I can’t be happier.”
Proffitt still keeps in contact with his former Irish teammates, exchanging messages with them on a regular basis. Notre Dame’s Tim Abromaitis even called to congratulate him after the Eagles won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
‘WINNING’ WITHOUT SHEEN: Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin is living his own real-life sitcom of sorts. At least, that’s the impression he gave when asked about the fine recruiting job done by assistant coach Darren Savino.
“He does a great job shopping for us,” Cronin said. “He lives in my basement. Takes the pressure off me at the grocery store. We’re ‘Two and a Half Men.’ I have a 4-year-old daughter. It’s just not quite as eventful (as the TV show). We’re not ‘winning’ every day.”
RARE AIR: Akron Zips center Zeke Marshall’s 3-point attempt with 2:55 to play was his first of the season and only the second of his career. The 7-footer missed, part of a 2-for-13 day.
“I don’t really recall their defense that caused me to miss. It was just me missing,” Marshall said.
LAST WORD: Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan had a Yogi Berra moment during his media session on Friday after being asked if there were any roads he doesn’t know about or any towns he’s hasn’t been to in 10 years of recruiting in the state.
“If I didn’t know where they were, I wouldn’t be able to tell you,” he said, drawing laughter from the room.
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