Villanova arrives in Detroit

March 26, 2008 4:29:23 PM PDT
Scottie Reynolds calls the one-inch long, deep scar above his right eye "pretty ugly." His Villanova teammates say the gash reflects what their determined point guard is all about. "That's why he's so good," said Wildcats guard Corey Fisher. "He has a lot of toughness in him."

Reynolds' message to Villanova has been all about keeping an eye on the prize, meaning win the next game in the NCAA tournament.

It's hard not to take Reynolds seriously when his eye is busted, bloodshot and bandaged.

The Wildcats (22-12) need Reynolds' toughness, his scoring and unselfishness if they want any shot at beating top-seeded Kansas (33-3) in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday in Detroit.

A month ago, Reynolds' confidence was nearly as busted as his eye. But coach Jay Wright moved him to point guard, and the 6-for-2 dynamo led the 12th-seeded Wildcats into the Sweet 16.

"He's playing as well as any guard we've had right now," Wright said.

That's high praise in a program that made two other round of 16 trips the last four years on the strength of their fantastic guard play. Future NBA players like Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry all helped make Villanova a national championship contender, and even persuaded Wright to play with a four-guard lineup.

In an odd twist, Reynolds wouldn't even be a Wildcat had Lowry not decided to leave for the NBA after his sophomore season. Reynolds instead be playing Kansas on a yearly basis with Oklahoma in the Big 12.

Reynolds, a McDonald's All-American out of Herndon, Va., had grown tight with former OU coach Kelvin Sampson on the recruiting trail, and originally signed his letter of intent with the Sooners.

When Sampson abruptly left for Indiana, Reynolds asked out and made his way to Villanova when Lowry's scholarship was made available.

Reynolds was an instant scoring sensation last season, including a 40-point game at Connecticut. It was the first 40-point game by a Wildcat since Kerry Kittles scored 44 in 1995 and one shy of the Big East freshman single-game record. He was a unanimous pick to the Big East's all-rookie team and was chosen the Rookie of the Year.

Reynolds even briefly flirted with the idea leaving early for the NBA after the Wildcats were knocked out in the first round of the tournament.

He returned and was sorely needed on a team without a senior on the roster. Last season, seniors like point guard Mike Nardi and forward Curtis Sumpter handled the scoring and leadership load.

Teams keyed on the energetic Reynolds this season and he was shuffled between point guard and shooting guard with mixed results.

There was a 32-point game against Cincinnati and then a stretch where he failed to score in double digits in four of six games.

That's when Wright decided he needed to talk with Reynolds. Wright asked Reynolds where he was more comfortable, as a point guard or a shooting guard. Reynolds said he'd play wherever he was needed.

Wright found the answer admirable, but he needed the truth. Reynolds said he wanted to play point guard.

"I'm trying to be the floor general and the guy that makes this team go and it's working for us right now," Reynolds said.

The Wildcats haven't been the same since that early March meeting. Reynolds scored 55 points with 10 assists in two Big East tournament games.

He earned the permanent mark above his eye in the conference tourney against Georgetown when he collapsed in a heap on a layup attempt, and left a small trail of blood on the floor heading back to the bench. Blood gushed out of the cut, streaked down his face and he would need nine stitches.

The stitches came out this week, and the busted blood vessel hardly affected his play. He scored 21 points in Villanova's first-round win against No. 5 seed Clemson and 25 in the next round against No. 13 Siena. Reynolds totaled seven more assists, shot 14 of 29 from the floor, and was 8-for-12 on 3s in 72 minutes.

"I think he's learned to play for his teammates and coaches," Wright said. "He's never been a selfish player, he just kind of played his game. Now he goes out there and says, 'There are things I've got to do to get my teammates involved, to make my team better, and there are things I have to do to show my coaches and the guys on the bench that I'm playing for them.' He's really done that."

Now that he's playing his best basketball of the season, Reynolds wants to keep going.

"My teammates have faith in me and they jumped on my back and I have faith in them," Reynolds said. "They're making my job a lot easier. We're all going to come together. We're going to finish this out. We're going to finish strong."