BOSTON — Villanova coach Jay Wright insists that the first meeting against Pittsburgh this season isn't much of a reference point for tonight's rematch in the NCAA East Region finale.
The circumstances were that unusual.
Back on Jan. 28, the Wildcats were playing the last college basketball game at the Spectrum, a sports landmark on the Philadelphia landscape to be razed this year.
"I almost in a weird way felt sorry for Pitt that night," Wright said Friday. "It's about 100 degrees in there. The place is packed; there's all kinds of history. Everybody is fired up. … For them it was a regular-season game. For us and everybody in Philadelphia, it was a big, big event."
His players flourished in that environment, rallying for a 67-57 win. But he knows it won't be the same kind of partisan pomp and circumstance at the TD Banknorth Garden, and that means it will be a different kind of game.
And a big event nonetheless.
The implications are that unusual.
The winner advances to Detroit for the Final Four. Top-seeded Pittsburgh (31-4), which made it beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time since the NCAA field expanded from 25 teams a generation ago, has been to the national semifinals once (1941), while No. 3 seed Villanova (29-7) has made it that far three times (1939, 1971 and the improbable national championship run of 1985).
"I'm not going to worry about the first game," Pittsburgh star sophomore center DeJuan Blair said, adding there is a degree of payback on the line but not so much not to get the big payday. "It's a bigger game (now), a bigger stage."
Blair battled foul trouble in that first meeting, limited to seven points and eight rebounds. That from a guy who averages a double double (15.6 points and 12.4 rebounds).
Even if Blair stays on the court, the Pitt-Villanova sequel might be a very different game for the simple reason that the Wildcats are a substantially different club now.
Thanks, in part, to that first game.
"Early in the season, some guys on our team that are very talented and that can do a lot of things weren't looking to be aggressive all the time," Villanova junior guard Scottie Reynolds said. "And I think that Pitt game was one of the first games where we (all) started to do that."
Consider: Junior guard Reggie Redding scored a game-high 18 on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. That was — and is — his career high.
"I think Scottie made a great point, and I actually had forgotten about that, that up until that point, we were kind of riding Scottie and (senior forward) Dante (Cunningham)," Wright said. "When they scored, we played well. When they didn't, we didn't. … We kind of learned from that game that, you know what, we're not going to survive with just being Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham; we need everybody to make big plays."
Talk about a reference point, huh?