Villanova's Jay Wright reflects while moving forward

January 16, 2017 – 02:19 pm

VILLANOVA'S SEASON ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, for the third time in four years. This time the Wildcats were eliminated by eighth-seeded Wisconsin. Which means they didn't become the third team to repeat since John Wooden called it a career in 1975. They didn't even become the fifth defending champion since Florida went back-to-back a decade ago to reach the Sweet 16 (none have gone further). So much for being the top overall seed in the field.

Still, it wasn't until two weeks later at the Final Four that the blunt reality "really hit" coach Jay Wright.

"I went to work the CBS pregame show before the semifinals and I had to get there early, " he said, at what's become an annual postseason chat to look back and, more relevant from his point of view, ahead. "I'm walking through the bottom of the stands (at Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.) and there's nobody there. It reminded me of last year, when we were coming in for the (opening) game. Except this year I felt kind of like an imposter, you know. I didn't do anything to be there.

"And going through workouts now, we didn't do any last spring. Because there was no time. We were doing so many other things. That's when I realized how different it was. But there's another side of me that enjoys this too. Coaches love practice. You love coaching more than you love going to appearances and stuff like that. This is what you enjoy more, that individual time with the players. In the offseason, it's a lot more relaxed. I really did miss that last year."

But . . .

"We would never trade a championship."

Therein lies the conundrum.

Only two teams have been either a one or a two seed in each of the last four seasons: Villanova and Kansas. Kansas lost in the Elite Eight the last two years. In 2016 the loss was to Villanova, which of course would become the last team standing. That was the year Wright wondered aloud what a third straight loss in the second round might mean. Especially since he hadn't been past the second game since 2009. Turned out it was a story that never had to be written. Next March, if the Wildcats are in a similar position, the questions will have to be asked again. Because even a national title only gets you so much whatever. Nobody gets that more than Wright.

"Each year is a unique journey, " he said. "As exhilarating as last year was, this loss was almost as crushing. It hurts. Gradually, it just kind of fades over time. But for awhile it's hard. Even if you won it last year. Because this season was over. And you put everything into each year. You never know what each new year's going to bring. I'm not going to be able to coach some of these guys any more. That group won't be together again. Things change."

This senior class (Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds) set a program record for wins, with 129. The Wildcats won 32 times this season, despite playing without two projected starters. They finished with one less loss than the previous season. Yet the lasting memory for many folks will be another early exit. Just like nobody remembers the 23-point December loss to Oklahoma last season, or the Big East title-game loss to Seton Hall three months later. Jenkins ensured that with one shot. This time there would be no heroics - from anyone. Which only makes Wright appreciate last year's run more.

Source: www.philly.com

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