Not unlike John Templon of Big Apple Buckets, I struggled with an angle for this story in the week leading up to the game. Kyle did talk about preparation, after all. Both schools are Catholic so I started there. But that was a dead end; the schools were founded at different times and in completely dissimilar ways. Incessant Googling didn't lead to anything tangible either. After much tinkering with search keywords and going well past the first page of results, the most notable thing I learned was that Maurice "Clipper" Smith, the Villanova football coach from 1936 to 1942 had arrived after coaching Santa Clara's football team from 1929 to 1935. It would have been cool to know a guy named Clipper. The Santa Clara athletics website said that the meeting would be the teams' third but I couldn't find out anything about the previous two. I'm telling you all, I really tried to find something. Alas, it was in this open, unsure mindset that I entered the third-place game of the 76 Classic at the Anaheim Convention Center, across the street from Disneyland.
The 76 Classic was unique in that the teams played games Thursday and Friday and took a break Saturday, the day before all the final games. According to the 76 Classic people, the coaches were widely in favor of the format, as they got a day to rest, relax, and enjoy the place. With Disneyland down the road, it seemed like there was a lot for the visitors, their families, and other travelers to soak in. Even without a full house, the Convention Center still provided a lively atmosphere. And because the place wasn't packed, everybody could sit at or a little above floor level.
As I watched the game, I kept thinking about what to write. I could write about the halftime "around the world" competition. I could write about Pumpy, the incredibly detailed gas pump mascot. Or maybe about the two sisters fighting behind me, rooting for different teams. Nothing really stuck out, though. But, as the game came to its close, things started to coalesce. The side I sat on had two sides of chairs on raised platforms and fans of the teams had split themselves up accordingly. The atmosphere started to pick up--the Villanova crowd stood up and cheered as the Wildcats seemed to be pulling away. I sat on the Santa Clara side. The intensity upped as time ticked down.
When the Broncos were down 64-55 with about 3 minutes left, it really appeared to be over. Even after two buckets and two stops to bring it to 64-59 with 58 seconds left, it still didn't seem like there was enough left in the tank. As Villanova brought the ball down the court, though, Evan Roquemore, the lean mohawked Bronco point guard, stole the ball and got fouled. He calmly drained two free throws and now we had a one-possession game with 50 seconds left. It got better. Santa Clara drew a timely offensive foul on the other end and prepared for their final possession with a timeout.
Out of the timeout, with the Broncos down just 64-61 and seven seconds left in the game, Roquemore was intentionally fouled. That's when things went haywire. Jay Wright and some of the Villanova players looked inexplicably at the refs as the officials signaled for Roquemore to step to the free throw line for a 1 and 1. Wright thought they had a foul to give. People were looking up at the scoreboards. Everybody--coaches, fans, players, refs-- seemed to be pointing somewhere. After going to the scorer's table for a minute, it was decided that the Wildcats had committed their seventh foul and Roquemore would go to the line. When the dust cleared, Roquemore sank both to bring it to 64-63. Santa Clara fouled immediately and JayVaughn Pinkston went to the line for the Wildcats for a 1 and 1. He missed the first and unthinkably fouled Roquemore on the rebound, eliciting "oohs" and "ahhs," sending the poised sophomore to the line again, where he made another two free throws to put the Broncos ahead 65-64. Villanova would miss their final heave.
It was stunning for both sides. There were more Villanova fans at the game and thus more shock in the air, while the Santa Clara fans seemed to be at once cautiously happy and genuinely surprised. At the end, I had started cheering pretty hard for the Broncos after being reserved for most of the game. My sister attends the school so that was a reason to root and they are a part of the Other 24, after all. But, generally, I'm kind of quiet, especially by myself and around people I don't know. Still, as Santa Clara mounted their comeback, I couldn't stop myself from clapping hard on a drawn charge. My internal "Yes!" became a spoken one when Roquemore stole the ball. My heart raced when he stood alone at the free throw line. I myself stood up with under a minute left.
This sport entrances me. It puts me to sleep and then wakes me up. And more often that not, awoken, I feel irrepressibly refreshed.
SANTA CLARA 65, VILLANOVA 64 11/27/2011
SANTA CLARA 4-2 (0-0) -- E. Roquemore 3-7 8-9 15; R. Cowels III 7-12 0-0 20; K. Foster 5-17 0-0 13; J. McArthur 2-3 0-0 4; N. Harrison 1-3 0-0 2; B. Clark 3-5 0-0 7; Y. Atanga 1-2 0-0 2; R. Garrett 0-1 0-0 0; J. Akwenuke 0-0 2-2 2; J. Clarke 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 10-11 65. VILLANOVA 4-2 (0-0) -- J. Bell 2-6 1-2 7; M. Yarou 7-13 5-7 19; M. Wayns 4-9 1-2 10; D. Hilliard 2-3 1-1 6; J. Pinkston 1-3 3-5 6; D. Cheek 2-9 5-5 10; M. Kennedy 2-6 0-0 4; T. Johnson 1-2 0-0 2; A. Yacoubou 0-0 0-0 0; M. Sutton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-51 16-22 64.
Three-point goals: SCL 11-27 (K. Foster 3-12; R. Cowels 6-9; E. Roquemore 1-3; B. Clark 1-3), NOVA 6-16 (D. Cheek 1-4; M. Wayns 1-4; J. Bell 2-5; J. Pinkston 1-1; D. Hilliard 1-2); Rebounds: SCL 18 (R. Cowels 3), NOVA 31 (M. Yarou 7); Assists: SCL 12 (E. Roquemore 9), NOVA 10 (M. Wayns 3); Total Fouls -- SCL 20, NOVA 15; Fouled Out: SCL-None; NOVA-None.