The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Villanova can't match '85 champs

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DETROIT - Villanova is still chasing that 1985 legacy.

That improbable national championship won by Rollie Massimino's Wildcats 24 years ago remains the only one in the program's history. Jay Wright's 'Cats inched closer than any Villanova team since, but that was little consolation after the Tar Heels knocked them out 83-69 Saturday night with Massimino and several '85 Wildcats cheering them on.

"I don't think I would ever plan on being back," Wright said. "But we're going to work hard on it. What I've also learned is, I never know when it's your time."

In the year of the Big East, Villanova (30-8) was the last conference team standing.

The Wildcats believed this really was their time. They didn't have a two-game losing streak all season, won 30 games for the first time ever, and a senior class led by starters Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark and Dante Cunningham finished with a record 102 victories.

"Everything about it was everything you dreamed of," Cunningham said.

Then it all went wrong.

The loss wasn't a total shocker. The top-seeded and more talented Tar Heels were determined to erase their embarrassing Final Four effort last season. But straying from "Villanova basketball" - an attacking, driving, get-to-the line mentality - proved to be a disaster.

That brand of basketball is how they turned a 14-point hole against American in the tourney opener into a 13-point victory. It's how they shredded UCLA and Duke in back-to-back 20-point victories over perennial title contenders. It's how they got March's defining moment on Scottie Reynolds' end-to-end game-winning layup against No. 1 seed Pitt in the regional final.

When the Wildcats abandoned that philosophy for a steady, empty string of jacked-up threes, it's how they got sent home.

"We had a great season," guard Reggie Redding said. "We're not going to try to let this loss spoil the great season we had."

Wright has molded the Wildcats into a national power again after years stuck in Big East mediocrity. The team thrived in a brutal Big East, finished fourth and earned a No. 3 seed in its fifth straight NCAA tournament, the second longest streak in team history.

Advancing to the Final Four for the first time since '85, the Wildcats had the unenviable task of trying to live up to that magic moment.

"Our practice facility, when you walk in there's a big screen where they play the song, 'One Shining Moment' and they relive that run," Wright said. "And I hit that button every time I go in there, so everybody that is behind me looks at it. They see it every day."

Reynolds, Cunningham and the rest of the Wildcats were peppered with as many questions about 1985 as they were of their next opponent. Massimino, parked behind the bench during this tournament run, got nearly as much TV face time as Wright. By the end, the players seemed exasperated by the '85 fuss. When one question to Reynolds started with an '85 reference, he shook his head and rubbed his hand over his face like he couldn't bear to hear another one.

With the loss, the focus shifts to the future.

The Wildcats already caught one break for next season - the NCAA tournament won't stop in Detroit. The Wildcats were eliminated the last two years (Kansas, Carolina) on the raised court at Ford Field. And Saturday night's defeat could be a good-luck sign for the Tar Heels since 'Nova has been eliminated by the eventual national champ three of the last four years. A North Carolina victory would make it four.

"I thought in '06, that was our time. I thought we had the team," Wright said. "We ran into the national champion, (Florida) in the Final Eight. We might have run into the national champion tonight."

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