MINNEAPOLIS -- Top-seeded Villanova is where it's supposed to be, which is the championship game of the Minneapolis Region. But the Wildcats are here only after escaping Boston College in overtime, provoking coach Jay Wright to concede that he's "going to have to look at that game and see what we can do better."
Here's one suggestion: Shoot.
It's not the club's marksmanship I have in mind, it's one of its principal scorers. That would be senior guard Allan Ray, who was dreadful in the club's 60-59 win over Boston College -- missing all but three of his 15 shots, including 2-of-9 from 3-point land -- in a dismal performance Wright would later blame on Boston College's defense.
|Villanova can't move on to the Final Four with another off-night from Allan Ray. (Getty Images)|
Yet Villanova survived, and maybe that's why the Wildcats are unconcerned. Or maybe it's Ray's history. He's been through this before, though he hasn't been through it lately. Remember that 3-for-32 performance in last year's NCAA Tournament? Yeah, well so does Ray, and he's not fazed.
And maybe he shouldn't be.
Because the last time he went through something like this was in early February when DePaul all but removed him from the contest -- holding him to five points on 2-for-14 shooting and 1-of-9 on 3s. Ray was no factor in a game that Villanova won by 10.
But that's not the point here. Ray bounced back with 25 in his next start, nailing five 3-pointers and rallying his team to a critical win over ... yep, mighty Connecticut. It's not just that he snapped out of it, it's that he snapped out of it against a monster, which is important to remember when wondering how or what he might do Sunday against Florida.
OK, so Florida played these guys in the tournament last year, and Ray was perfectly off that evening -- missing all six of his shots, including three 3s. As the Gators' Billy Donovan and as Wright pointed out, the clubs that meet Sunday are vastly different from their predecessors -- and Villanova can only hope that includes Ray.
"We know against Florida he's going to be knocking down shots," said teammate Randy Foye.
I don't, but somewhere someone's saying something about not keeping a good shooter down. Ray is a good shooter, not a great one. He had one miserable slump this year -- a three-game run where he sank 11-of-46 and never hit more than three 3s in any game. But then, just like that, it was over, and he was himself again, breaking free for 99 points in the next four starts.
"(When things go wrong) coach wants me to shoot," said Ray, who set a school record for 3s this year, "and he's always telling me never to lose my aggressiveness. The way our offense is set up, it's either for me or Randy to take the shots."
It's up to them to make the shots, too, which is where Ray fell down Friday night. He and his teammates expect a return to normal Sunday, but remember, this is a Florida team that held Georgetown to 53 points and an opponent that, as Ray confessed, "forces you to make the tough shots."
But making the tough shots is why Ray and Foye are here. It's why Foye was the Big East Player of the Year, and it is why Ray is a Wooden Award candidate. It's why Foye scored in double figures 30 times and reached 20 points on 20 occasions, and it's why Ray scored in double figures 28 times, including 16 games with 20. It's why, quite frankly, it's hard to talk about one without mentioning the other.
"Both of them are as good -- and have had as good a career -- as any guards that ever played in the (Big East) from Allen Iverson to Pearl Washington to Mark Jackson," said Donovan. "They created an identity for themselves that is known throughout the United States of America. When you talk about college careers and guys in the Big East -- and you put up not only their numbers and their stats but the fact that they have won as much as they have won -- you can throw them in there with any guards that ever played in that league."
That's easy to say now. Let's see what happens Sunday. All I know is that Villanova can't afford to live on Randy Foye alone again. It's time for Allan Ray to make himself known.
"I'm just going to go out and play the same game," said Ray.
For Villanova's sake, the results this time better be different.