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24-year Final Four dry spell ends for ‘Nova

Villanova head coach Jay Wright (left) is congratulated by former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright (left) is congratulated by former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino.

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Scottie Reynolds flashed the “V” sign with one hand to a booming crowd on Sunday and used his other arm to keep that lucky ball wrapped tight.

At the previous night’s team dinner, he kept one hand on the fork and the other on the rock. And sleep? Well, what few winks he caught, Reynolds made sure the basketball was nearby, like a child who won’t go to bed without his favorite toy.

Reynolds could play two more games in the Final Four without a turnover if he protects the ball like that.

Villanova’s 24-year Final Four absence is over all because of Reynolds’ clear-path, half-court race to the rim that gave the Wildcats a 78-76 victory over Pittsburgh in the East Regional final.

“I’m still in shock,” Reynolds said.

The stunning layup with a half-second left led all the local news shows Saturday night and was being replayed all the next morning. It will surely have a permanent spot on the March Madness highlight reel, on there with Tyus Edney’s similar winner for UCLA in 1995.

“I think everybody wants to be in that situation where they hit that shot to advance to something more, something special,” Reynolds said. “For us, it was the Final Four. I still can’t believe it.”

Villanova’s charter flight home from Boston was delayed about two hours, but once the Wildcats were back on campus, they were greeted by nearly 1,000 delirious fans at the Pavilion.

Coach Jay Wright, Reynolds, Dante Cunningham and other players addressed the crowd in a brief rally where they promised the tournament run wasn’t over yet.

“We’ve got two more games to get,” Wright said.

Wright told the crowd when he introduced Reynolds there was no one else he could have wanted to take that shot then the gutty point guard.

“The guy who’s hit more big shots and made more big plays than anyone I could remember in Villanova basketball history,” Wright said to cheers. “There’s not anybody on this team that wants to have the ball in his hands at the end.”

UConn on a mission

GLENDALE – By tradition, NCAA regional champions stage elaborate net-cutting ceremonies, with everyone from the leading scorer to the student managers climbing a ladder and taking a snip.

Not the Connecticut Huskies – not this time anyway.

After holding off Missouri 82-75 in the West regional final on Saturday, the Huskies decided to put off the net-cutting for a week. The Huskies plan on bringing scissors to Detroit’s Ford Field, site of the Final Four.

“We have another mission,” guard Craig Austrie said.

Closing in on its third national title, UConn (31-4) will face Midwest regional champ Michigan State (30-6) in the national semifinals Saturday. It could be a virtual home game for the Spartans, whose East Lansing campus is 90 miles from Detroit – a big change for a UConn team that has made itself at home in the desert.

This is the third time the Huskies have won Phoenix-area regionals. The first time, in 1999, coach Jim Calhoun wept after they outlasted Gonzaga. The feeling was different five years later, when the favored Huskies blasted Alabama by 16 points to earn a Final Four berth.

This time, the top-seeded Huskies survived against two game opponents ≠ Purdue and Missouri – who posed different challenges.

The Huskies adjusted nicely. They used their tallest player, 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet, to wear down the Boilermakers. Then they used their second-smallest player, 6-foot-1 freshman guard Kemba Walker, to outrun the Tigers.

Talk about versatility.

“I don’t know what we are this year, but I know we’re really, really good,” Calhoun said.

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