VILLANOVA, Pa. – Jay Wright’s biggest upset of the NCAA Tournament came on the pregame officials list, not on the court.
There for Villanova’s regional final game against Pittsburgh was the name of the man who tormented him the last time the Wildcats played North Carolina in the tourney.
No, Rashad McCants or Raymond Felton were not wearing Tar Heels uniforms.
It was lead official Tom O’Neill who made the usually collected coach feel a bit jittery.
“I admit, I was scared,” Wright said Monday. “I was shocked when I saw that. We said hello to each other. During the game we didn’t get into anything. I purposely tried to stay away.”
Villanova fans haven’t forgotten O’Neill’s whistle and the controversial traveling call on former Wildcat Allan Ray in the final seconds of a regional semifinal loss to North Carolina in 2005. Ray sank the basket and for a few fateful seconds thought he was going to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game.
Instead, the bucket was erased and the Tar Heels took advantage of the call and escaped with a 67-66 win.
“That’s going to be a theme,” Wright said. “I guess a lot of fans are going to be remembering that.”
Coach Roy Williams led North Carolina to the national championship that season.
The Wildcats? Well, they’re still waiting for their next national title. But 2005 was Villanova’s first tournament appearance in six seasons. Each tournament since has been a big step – no whistle included – toward their first Final Four since 1985.
Standing in the Wildcats’ way is, yup, North Carolina.
Wright said he’s been texting with Ray and other members of the ’05 team, though the ex-’Cats are more interested in the outcome of Saturday’s semifinal than in reminiscing over an official’s call.
“Maybe we’ll use that this week,” Wright said, laughing. “But their point is how proud they are. These were their young guys.”
Wright said O’Neill called a good game in Villanova’s 78-76 victory over Pittsburgh in the East Regional final. Wright, though, knows the Wildcats shouldn’t use what happened in 2005 or need any other motivation for the Final Four.
The Wildcats (30-7) already have knocked off two elite programs in UCLA and Duke, then survived the Big East battle with Pitt.
“We faced a lot of good teams in our conference and we faced a lot of good teams in the tournament so far,” guard Reggie Redding said. “UNC is a great team, though, so it’s going to be our toughest game so far.”