Here’s part four of five of our week long series of looking back at Villanova’s top 10 moments of the past year:
4. Dante Cunningham is drafted 33rd overall by the Portland Trail Blazers- June 25, 2009
Anyone who claims to have seen this coming before the season was a liar. Cunningham had carved out a nice college career through his first three seasons but did not seem like a serious NBA prospect. Then came his senior season and things changed. Cunningham developed a lethal jump shot that caused a jump in scoring average, earning him the Big East’s Most Improved Player and making him the best player on Villanova’s Final Four team.
So far, Cunningham has seen several minutes per game as a bench player for Portland and is averaging 3.4 ppg and 2.4 rpg.
3. Villanova destroys basketball powers UCLA and Duke- Mar. 21 and Mar. 26, 2009
Part of the reason that made 2009 special for Villanova was who they played in the NCAA tournament. After defeating American, the Wildcats had the chance to take on the storied program of UCLA. While UCLA may have had the history, Villanova had the victory as they tore apart the Bruins in front of a raucous Philadelphia crowd, winning 89-69. Both Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson had double-doubles for Villanova, and overall six Wildcats scored in double-figures.
Next up was a trip to the Sweet 16 where Duke was awaiting. After an evenly played first half, Villanova trounced the Blue Devils by outscoring them 51-31 in the game’s final minutes to win 77-54. Cunningham had another double-double while Scottie Reynolds led all scorers with 16 points. The Blue Devils shot just 26.7 percent from the field.
The two wins set up an Elite Eight matchup between Villanova and Pittsburgh.
The No. 3-seeded Villanova Wildcats defeated the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils 77-54 Thursday night in the East Regional semifinal in Boston in front of what seemed a Villanova friendly crowd.
Junior guard Scottie Reynolds led all players in scoring with 16 points, and the Wildcats’ defense stepped up to hold the Blue Devils to 26.7 percent from the field and 18.5 percent from beyond the 3-point line. The 23-point drubbing was Duke’s worst tournament loss since their 30-point defeat to UNLV in 1990.
Similar to the opening of their game against UCLA, the Wildcats came out physical, blocking Duke’s first three-point attempt. After quickly going down five, Villanova stormed back to score 11 unanswered points. The Wildcats never relinquished the lead after Reynolds put the team up two with a three-pointer and 17:21 remaining in the first half.
Despite poor shooting from deep, Villanova went into the locker room up three, the score sitting at 26-23. Duke’s 3-point shooting, usually the team’s strong point, was held in check as the Blue Devils shot only 2-11 from deep in the first half. The only reason the game was close was due to Duke matching Villanova’s physicality and defensive pressure.
Duke forward Kyle Singler opened the second half with an easy layup, pulling the Blue Devils to within one, 26-25. But the Wildcats came back with a vengeance, exploding on a 16-4 run and bringing the score to 42-29.
Villanova continued to play physical while Duke continued to search for answers. The struggles from three-point land that crippled the Blue Devils in the first half carried over in the second. Duke shot only 9-35 from the field and 3-16 from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Corey Stokes hit a three-point jumper with just over two minutes remaining to secure Villanova’s spot in the Elite 8.
Those left in the TD Banknorth Garden started chants of “We want Pitt! We want Pitt!”
Many expected a dogfight between these two very similar squads, but Villanova was simply too deep and too balanced for the Blue Devils. The Wildcats managed to contain Duke’s most explosive players, forwards Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson. The two combined for a miserable 4-32 from the field.
In addition to Reynolds, senior forward Dante Cunningham and junior guard Reggie Redding managed double figures in points. Redding finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, while Cunningham notched yet another double-double, scoring 14 points and bringing in 11 boards.
Besides propelling Villanova into the next round to take on Big East rival Pittsburgh for a trip to the Final Four, the victory broke Villanova’s school record for wins in a single season. The Duke win was Villanova’s 29th of the year and marked the Wildcat’s first victory over Duke since December 20, 1958. The Blue Devils had won the previous five meetings.
Villanova will try to advance to its first Final Four since winning the National Championship in 1985 against Pittsburgh on Saturday at 7 p.m.
I’m off to Boston, but here are the articles dealing with the game form this week’s issue: