The finality, the reality of it all didn’t hit Josh Hart right away.
Villanova had just finished putting away stubborn St. John’s 92-79 late Saturday night when it was pointed out to the Wildcats’ best player, senior co-captain and candidate for NCAA Player of the Year he has just played his last game in the Wells’ Fargo Center, their South Philadelphia home away from home.
“I didn’t realize it was my last one here,” admitted Hart, who scored 25 points and pulled down nine rebounds, as the 22-2 Wildcats led wire-to-wire over Chris Mullin’s Red Storm. “It went by quick.To be able to play in arena like this always is amazing, especially the way our fans come out each game, no matter the opponent.It’s a blessing playing here. I’m gonna miss it.”
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The more Hart thought about it the more in began to sink in. The next time he plays in the building will presumably be for an NBA team, perhaps even the Sixers. But it won’t be the same.
“I’m gonna miss playing with these guys and having Villanova on my chest,” said Hart, who went 14-2 at the Wells over his four years — losing only to Creighton in 2014 and Providence in overtime last season. “It’s always an amazing turnout.I remember when we clinched first in the Big East regular season my sophomore year and the Providence game last year when there was a blizzard but all those fans came pouring out to support us.
“I’m getting goose bumps even thinking it’s my last one playing here with this team. I’m gonna miss it dearly.”
Hart got a clue what he was in for even before he’d committed to play for Jay Wright and Co.
“I saw the Syracuse upset game when Arch (Ryan Arcidiancono) hit a three to tie it,” recalled Hart of Villanova’s 75-71 overtime win over Jim Boeheim’s then No. 3 ranked Orange in 2013. “And I saw a Georgetown game that year. I’d committed by that point.It’s a pro arena. I love the Pavilion, but it’s always great coming here.”
Speaking of the Pavilion, the No. 2 ranked Cats will be back there Tuesday to take on none other than Georgetown before heading out on a three-game road swing to Xavier, DePaul and Seton Hall. After turning it over 23 times vs. St Johns, and seeing what had been 42-16 bulge trimmed to 48-39 before restoring order, Wright’s a bit concerned.
“We need to get prepared for a long, athletic Georgetown team that could turn us over like this,” said Wright, who indicated that after coming off the bench to restore his confidence Saturday, Kris Jenkins would return to the starting lineup for the Hoyas. “I’m concerned, but not worried.I want to see how we keep growing, because you never know how good a team can be until the end and there’s a lot of room for improvement.That’s encouraging to me.”
Because there’s still more than a month to go before they finally get the chance to defend their title, which one player from ‘Nova’s other championship team believes could happen.
“We won it with six guys,” said Dwayne McClain, one of the stars from Rollie Massimino’s 1985 squad, when asked if the current seven-deep Wildcats could run out of gas. “You just want guys to be healthy at the right time.We waited 31 years to share that glory. I wish it could’ve happened earlier, but they could be in position to do it again this year.”
The likelihood is Nova will start its run in Buffalo, before taking the act to Broadway, site of the East Regionals. Of course last year the East went through the WFC, only Villanova wasn’t invited, which didn’t turn out so bad.
“Yeah we were bummed out,” admitted Hart. “We had a chance to play in Philly for the Elite 8. That would’ve been amazing. It would’ve basically been a home game.But we definitely managed to overcome it.”
To do so again, though, they just won’t be able to go to the Wells anymore.