Villanova nipped then-No. 13 Pittsburgh 64-63 on Jan. 6 to rebound from a bad loss, but its most crucial wins came in late February when it beat West Virginia 78-56 and then-No. 13 Connecticut 67-65 in consecutive games. That's how you get off the bubble into the tournament field.
The Wildcats lost at DePaul 84-76 on Jan. 3 in their Big East opener, but the nadir had to be at Rutgers, 80-68 on Jan. 23. Rutgers finished at the bottom of the league standings (3-15).
About the school
Location: Villanova, Pa.
Famous alumni: Adm. William "Fox" Fallon, U.S. Central Command; broadcaster and Hall of Fame football player Howie Long; singer Jim Croce
No. Player PosGP MinPtsReb
1 K.C. Rivers G/F 33 30.5 14.7 6.4
2 Demontez Stitt G 31 22.6 8.6 1.6
4 Jonah Baize G/F 7 0.7 0.0 0.3
5 Zavier Anderson G 8 1.9 0.3 0.3
12 Raymond Sykes C 33 14.5 4.4 2.4
15 David Potter G/F 33 15.9 4.8 2.2
22 Terrence Oglesby G 33 18.2 10.5 1.8
24 Matt Morris F 16 3.6 0.8 0.4
25 Cliff Hammonds G 33 34.2 11.5 4.1
32 Sam Perry F 27 10.7 3.1 2.3
35 Trevor Booker C/F 33 26.8 11.2 7.4
40 James Mays F 28 27.2 10.9 6.9
44 Jesse Yanutola G 11 1.1 0.5 0.0
45 Jerai Grant F 30 8.3 2.1 2.2
55 Karolis Petrukonis C 9 3.4 0.4 1.1
No. Player PosGP MinPtsReb
0 Antonio Pena F 32 19.4 7.0 4.3
1 Scottie Reynolds G 32 32.2 15.6 2.9
3 Malcolm Grant G 28 13.0 5.8 0.8
4 Jason Colenda G 4 1.8 0.0 0.3
5 Casiem Drummond C 19 14.2 5.2 4.9
10 Corey Fisher G 31 22.0 9.1 1.8
15 Reggie Redding G 32 20.6 4.7 2.5
20 Shane Clark F 29 22.2 7.2 4.3
22 Dwayne Anderson G/F 27 20.6 6.4 4.9
24 Corey Stokes G 32 17.9 6.1 2.5
33 Dante Cunningham F 32 30.1 10.4 6.5
42 Frank Tchuisi F 6 2.0 0.5 0.7
Coach: Oliver PurnellRecord: 24-9
It's hard to imagine the Tigers playing any better than they did in their ACC tournament opener against Boston College. They won 82-48. But the next day, they snapped a 22-game losing streak to No. 7 Duke, pulling out a 78-74 win by, as improbable as it seemed, hitting free throws down the stretch.
The Tigers lost successive home games in January to No. 1 North Carolina and Charlotte, but neither was tougher than the 103-93 2OT loss at UNC. They blew an 11-point lead and a win would have been their first in 53 trips to Chapel Hill.
About the school
Location: Clemson, S.C.Enrollment: 17,309
Famous alumni: Former Sen. Strom Thurmond; Access Hollywood star Nancy O'Dell
Coach: Jay WrightRecord: 20-12
USF COACH STAN HEATH SAYS …: "This is a potential upset game here. Clemson plays an exciting style with a fullcourt pressing game, but Villanova can control that with their excellent guard play. Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher can control the game with their ballhandling. Clemson is a team of spurts, and they showed against North Carolina that they can play with anybody. Look for a great game here."
Greg Auman, Times staff writer
Clemson's in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade, while the Villanova Wildcats are making their fourth straight appearance. A big edge for the Wildcats, you say? "Man, I hope so, but you never know. You really don't. You never know how a team's going to react in this tournament," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. But if experience on this stage isn't the tipping point in today's showdown of teams from two of the power conferences — the ACC and the Big East — what will be?
Pressure point: With a 10-man rotation, Clemson can relentlessly press. As a team, it averages nearly 10 steals a game, third nationally. A unique aspect to the Tigers' strategy is that they use 6-9 senior forward James Mays or 6-7 sophomore forward Trevor Booker at the top. "They're very long and athletic at every position," Villanova sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds said, adding they remind him a bit of Louisville. Villanova lost at Louisville 68-54, but committed only 14 turnovers.
Getting Reynolds unwrapped: Reynolds isn't just his team's top scorer, he's its engine. In the Big East tournament quarterfinals against Georgetown, Reynolds had to leave the game for five minutes when a gash over his right eye started bleeding again. Georgetown led by just one; by the time he returned, the lead was nine. Said Clemson senior guard Cliff Hammonds: "He does it all for his team. … So we've got to focus on him and try to limit him from as many touches as possible."
Bouncing back: Clemson coach Oliver Purnell worried about how his team might play after the disappointing loss to North Carolina in Sunday's ACC tournament final. Clemson was in the title game for just the second time and the first time since 1962. Said Purnell: "I think they're progressing fine. … We're not ready yet, but based on what I saw in terms of our preparation for the ACC tournament, I think we're right on schedule."