Date: March 28, 2009; NCAA Tournament Elite Eight regional final
Location: TD Garden, Boston
Participants: The Villanova Wildcats, coached by Jay Wright, and the Pittsburgh Panthers, coached by Jamie Dixon
The Outcome: Villanova 78, Pittsburgh 76
The 2009 season felt like it was Pittsburgh’s year. The Panthers entered the season as the reigning Big East champions, with their top three players returning. They went 31-5, including 15-3 in conference play, including two wins against UConn, who was No. 1 in the country on both occasions. Come March, Pitt earned its first No. 1 seed in school history and rolled through its first three games, setting up a date with No. 3 seed Villanova, a heated Big East rival, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds, however, had other plans.
The first half was predictably physical without much offensive rhythm, with Pitt holding a slim 34-32 lead at the half. However, things picked up in what would be one of the best second halves in tournament history.
It was as back-and-forth as it gets, with 15 lead changes in the second half alone. No team ever controlled more than a five-point lead.
With 40 seconds remaining and Villanova up by four, Pitt’s Sam Young made a huge 3-pointer to cut it to one. The teams then traded free throws (the Wildcats, by the way, were 22 of 23 from the charity stripe in the game), and after a costly Nova turnover, Pitt’s Levance Fields stepped to the line trailing by two with just 5.5 seconds remaining.
Fields made the first, and Jay Wright iced him with a timeout. After the break, Fields calmly knocked down the second, tying the game at 76-76. With just 5.5 seconds remaining and the Wildcats forced to go the length of the court, overtime seemed inevitable.
The rest is history. The inbounds pass went to Villanova’s leading scorer Dante Cunningham, who quickly shoveled it to Scottie Reynolds. Rather than pulling up for a shot, Reynolds drove down the court and went right at the rim, drawing contact and tossing up a floater from the middle of the lane. It rattled around the rim and went in, giving Villanova a 78-76 lead as the buzzer erupted and the players rushed the court. After review, half a second was put back on the clock, but Pitt’s heave was long, and the Wildcats celebrated.
“In that situation, you have four dribbles and a shot,” Reynolds said after the game. “That’s five seconds. All that goes in your head. That’s why we practice that every day in practice so we can make an instinct play. We did that, it worked tonight. Only has to work once.”
It was certainly not a pretty shot, not the stuff of Kemba Walker’s stepback in 2011 or Trey Burke’s 30-footer in 2013, or most recently, Kris Jenkins’ championship-winning buzzer beater in 2016. But it was two points just the same, and Villanova punched its ticket to the Final Four.
It’s hard to believe given its recent dominance, but it was Villanova’s first trip to the Final Four in nearly 30 years. UConn also made the Final Four in 2009, meaning if both teams had won they would’ve met for a Big East game for the ages in the championship. Instead, both lost, and North Carolina went on to defeat Michigan State for the title—but not before Scottie Reynolds etched his name in the storied record books of March Madness.