Final Score: Villanova 75, Clemson 69
Player of the Game: Scottie Reynolds 21 pts
Recap: #12 Villanova upset #5 Clemson for the fourth upset of the day in Tampa, Florida. Earlier in the day #12 Western Kentucky upset #5 Drake, then #13 San Diego upset #4 UConn, then #13 Siena upset #4 Vanderbuilt, and finally Villanova completed the sweep for the underdogs in the region. In a surprising scenario Villanova will play Siena in the second the round. Siena should not be taken lightly, but I like Nova's chances of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. After the five-game losing streak and the pounding Villanova took against St. Joe's, who would have ever thought that Villanova would be playing Siena in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Clemson dominted from the start of the game. Villanova couldn't handle the pressure, and it led to turnovers and easy baskets for the Tigers. Clemson got out to a 36-18 lead, but the Wildcats went on a mini-run at the end of the first half to cut the deficit to twelve points. Then Villanova continued the run into the second half. They looked like a completely different team. Scottie Reynolds was draining threes (4-5), including an incredible shot that he banked in after being fouled from behind the arc. Villanova's ball pressure on defense was great in the second half, and Clemson found it very difficult to score. Villanova also took advantage of Clemson's poor free throw shooting by not allowing lay-ups and fouling them hard under the basket. Clemson shot 60.9% from the free throw line, while Villanova shot 82.8%, including some clutch shots down the stretch.
Corey Fisher was the X-factor for Villanova tonight. He stepped up in a big way and looked like the great scorer from earlier in the season. Fisher had 17 points on 3-8 from the field and 2-3 from three, but most impressively he was 9-10 from the free throw line. Fisher was difficult to stop when driving to the basket and drawing fouls.
Also stepping up for Villanova was Antonio Pena. He provided some low-post scoring for the wildcats with 12 points. Pena and Shane Clark co-led the team with six rebounds to help Nova out-rebound the bigger Tigers 36-31.
Villanova had its share of problems in the second the second half also. Jay Wright picked up a technical foul for arguing that Reyonlds was fouled after a jumpball was called. This enabled Clemson to get within two points at 64-62. It could have been a costly mistake by Wright, but luckliy it didn't affect the outcome.
Dante Cunningham picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, forcing Jay Wright to go deep into his bench to find a big man to replace him. With Casiem Drummond likely not healthy enough to re-enter the game, Wright had to go all the way to Cameroon to find a replacement. That's right, Frank Tchuisi was called upon during a crucial stretch in the second half. He played less than a minute, but it just goes to show that this win was a collective effort. It was not just Reynolds' and Fisher's scoring that led Villanova to victory; it was the team defense and contributions from players like Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark, Dante Cunningham, Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding. This game represents the evolution of the team during the season. Earlier in the season Reynolds and Fisher were putting up some big offensive numbers, but Villanova was losing games because they weren't getting it done defensively. Now when you combine the drastically improved defense and the scoring of Reynolds and Fisher, Villanova is a tough team to beat.
Some believed that Villanova did not deserve to be in the tournament, yet here they are with a victory over Clemson. They proved the doubters wrong, and have a chance to go to the Sweet Sixteen. The Big East has looked impressive in the tournament so far. The conference went 7-1 in the first round, and would have went undefeated if not fot the last-second shot made by San Diego today. Nova seems to thrive as an underdog, but let's hope that won't stop them from defeating the 13-seed Siena on Sunday. If they can take care of business against Siena, Villanova can go back to it's underdog status in a potential Sweet Sixteen game versus top-seeded Kansas.
Next Game: Sunday March 23, vs. Siena, at 12:10 pm