Monday, February 8, 2010

The wildest Villanova/West Virginia basketball game ever.

Villanova plays an important game starting in a few minutes against West Virginia in Morgantown where, I believe, they've not been victorious is over a decade. As any VU/West VA game always does, this one inspires memories of a great and controversial battle between the two back in the day.

West Virginia came into town undefeated, 11-0, and ranked #1 in the country to play an, at best, mediocre Villanova team at the Palestra. Somehow, Villanova was up by ten at the half and by 14 with eighteen minutes to go, at which point a heralded but not yet established West VA sophomore named Jerry West (whatever became of him?) started to take over the game. He scored 15 in those final minutes, ended with a total of 37 for the game.

With seconds to go, West made his final basket to make the score Wildcats 75, Mountaineers 74. The ball dropped through the basket and rolled back to the stands where the Villanova player who was to pass it in could not find ot while official Dan Smeddy started counting the five seconds allowed for a pass in. Villanova captain Tom Brennan was screaming for a timeout which Smeddy ignored but fellow official John Stevens did call it. Smeddy had his back to Stevens and continued counting, then took the ball and gave it to West Virginia without objection from Stevens. 

With two seconds to go, West VA forward Lloyd Scharrar made a jumpshot from the corner to win the game, 76-75. Pandemonium ensued.

Sports writer Bob Vetrone, who was the guy who covered Philadelphia's Big Five college teams, jumped over the scorer's table and chased Smeddy and Stevens across the floor and into the dressing room. The officials later had to be escorted out of the building by a police squad because irate fans were still waiting outside.

A friend, with whom I was discussing this last night, says he remembers reading in the papers that Villanova coach Al Severance told the press "the game was closer than the score indicated." I never saw that but Severance was noted for more than the occasional malaprop and it's a great line either way. My lead in the game story for the weekly Villanovan was

"Yes, West Virginia, there is a Santa Claus..." 

There was a personal postscript, three or four years later.

I was playing in a YMCA basketball league in center city and we were given a budget to hire an official for each game, usually, in those simpler times, one of the guys who did the Palestra games. We were in the playoff and the official that night was...Dan Smeddy.

Late in the game, one of the players on other team grabbed a reboud and through a long pass the length of the court to teammate who was cherry-picking. I had stayed back with him and what I did is illegal now but wasn't then, I don't believe. He was much taller than I so I waved my hands wildly in front of his face to try and obscure his vision and Smeddy blew the foul. He was still at the other end of the court and thought I had hit the guy on the arm.

We lined up along the foul line and Smeddy took the ball and, before handing it to the foul-shooter, asked "Is everybody ready?" And I responded, "Hey, Dan, that call was worse that the West Virginia one."

He laughed his ass off and threw me out of the game.

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