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March 28, 2008

Reynolds growing into a complete player

MORE: NCAA Tournament Central | Sweet 16 Viewer's Guide

TAMPA, Fla. Villanova coach Jay Wright is witnessing a transformation. Before his eyes, he is watching sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds mature from a scorer into a complete player.

"This might have been his best game," Wright said after his Wildcats clinched their third Sweet 16 appearance in four seasons with an 84-72 win over Siena on Sunday.

Reynolds scored 25 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists in the Wildcats' win. Despite being pressured the entire game, he committed only two turnovers. He got the ball inside to center Dante Cunningham, who scored 14 points. Reynolds also shut down Siena guard Ronald Moore, who was the Saints' driving force in a 21-point upset of Vanderbilt in the first round.

Where he once used to fill up only the scoring column, Reynolds is now taking over several facets of the game.

"He's started to develop into a great point guard," Wright said. "He was a great college player last year. He was fun to watch. He won a lot of games for us, but there were a couple we lost because he was out of control and he didn't play defense as well. (Now) he's playing like a big-time point guard."

Reynolds has been in full control in two tournament games for a team that may have been the last at-large selection in the field. He has scored 46 points, going 14 of 27 from the field, with eight rebounds and seven assists. He'll be put to the test again when Villanova faces top-seeded Kansas on Friday in Detroit. The Jayhawks have one of the best backcourts in the nation with Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Russell Robinson.

In the first round, when Villanova upset fifth-seeded Clemson, Reynolds said he had played so hard that his feet burned. Wright indicated he should have rested Reynolds more in that game, but Reynolds didn't show any fatigue against Siena in the second round.

Then again, Reynolds has been a pleasant surprise for Wright since the start.

Reynolds signed with Oklahoma out of Herndon (Va.) High, and he said he was shocked when then-Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson called him in March 2006 to tell him he had accepted the job at Indiana.

"It broke my heart," Reynolds said. "I remember it like it was yesterday, I didn't even speak to him. I had the phone and he was talking and I couldn't The first time (he called), I didn't even say anything. I couldn't even speak."

Oklahoma released Reynolds, a McDonald's All-American, from his scholarship, but that meant Reynolds was scrambling for a home eight months before the start of the season. His high school coach, Gary Hall, asked Wright if Villanova had a spot open. He didn't but then guard Kyle Lowry surprisingly left early for the NBA Draft.

Wright called Reynolds and his coach. Within the span of a couple of weeks, Villanova landed a player who became the Big East rookie of the year.

"Everyone wants to talk about the bad things that happen in recruiting," Wright said. "We were handed, on a platter, a McDonald's All-American. All the bad things that happen to us in recruiting, we can never complain."

Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds in the NCAA Tournament
OpponentPointsFG (3-pt FG)ReboundsAssistsTurnovers
Clemson 21 7-for-12 (4-for-5) 4 2 6
Siena 25 7-for-15 (4-for-7) 8 5 2
After averaging 14.8 points as a freshman, Reynolds took on another challenge as a sophomore. Villanova lost seniors Mike Nardi, Curtis Sumpter and Will Sheridan, leaving the Wildcats without a senior for this season.

A junior class led by Cunningham became team leaders by default, but there was no question Reynolds was the face of the program.

"It's been up and down (not having a senior class)," Reynolds said. "We have guys that have been to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16. Those are guys we look up to."

Cunningham became the de facto team leader and called a team meeting to rally the Wildcats during a five-game losing streak from Jan. 23 to Feb. 4. Reynolds, though, was charged with leading Villanova on the court.

"Since the USF game (March 5), the ball has been in my hand," Reynolds said. "I've taken responsibility for my team on the court, trying to score in situations, being aggressive, not being too passive, trying to get my teammates involved."

Villanova is 5-1 since that point, with three of those wins coming in Big East and NCAA Tournament play. The Big East tourney win over Syracuse likely was the victory that put the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. Reynolds and Villanova haven't squandered that vote of confidence from the selection committee.

"When you think you have this game and kids figured out, life hits you in the face," Wright said. "This group has just shocked me."

MORE: NCAA Tournament Central | Sweet 16 Viewer's Guide

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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