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March 27, 2006

Ray struggles again for Villanova in NCAA tourney

MINNEAPOLIS - Allan Ray hoped he had gotten rid of his NCAA tournament shanks. They returned Sunday against Florida, and backcourt buddy Randy Foye couldn't bail him out this time.

Ray shot 5-for-19 and scored just 11 points in top-seeded Villanova's 75-62 loss to the third-seeded Gators in the Minneapolis Regional final.

''This is a tough night for Allan Ray right now. A tough night,'' Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. ''But there's been great nights, too - a lot of them. You have to take them both.''

There definitely have been more great nights than tough ones over the last four years for Ray, the Wildcats' second-leading scorer. He teamed with fellow senior Foye to bring Nova back to prominence and to the brink of the school's first Final Four appearance since Rollie Massimino, Ed Pinckney and those famous underdogs shocked Georgetown in the national title game in 1985.

But Ray's brilliant career at Villanova has been somewhat tarnished by his considerable struggles during tourney time, and he didn't do anything to help that in his final game in a Wildcats uniform.

''Every shot was contested,'' Ray said. ''There were very few open looks.''

Last year, Ray was 3-for-32 in the Cats' three tournament games, including 2-for-14 in a one-point loss to North Carolina in the round of 16.

Ray was a question mark to even play in this year's NCAAs after he sustained a scary eye injury during Villanova's semifinal loss to Pittsburgh in the Big East tournament - just days before the 65-team field was announced.

He recovered quickly, leading the Wildcats with 19 points in their first-round win over Monmouth and then 25 against Arizona in the second round.

But just as Ray seemed to be putting those tourney problems behind him, he went 3-for-15 for in Friday night's overtime victory over Boston College in the regional semis. Foye's 29 points more than compensated, and he led the way again on Sunday with 25.

Unlike against turnover-prone BC, however, he needed some help, and Ray just couldn't deliver.

''I told him, 'We're going to go down with you shooting the ball,''' Wright said. ''That's who we are.''

Aside from Foye, the rest of his teammates struggled right with him. The Wildcats shot 24.7 percent, including 2-for-11 from Mike Nardi.

As shot after shot clanged off the rim and into the arms of hungry Florida rebounders, the energy started to seep from Ray's body. He looked dazed and stunned, staggering back to the court after timeouts and wandering almost aimlessly in transition.

He shot 2-for-7 in the first half and had to sit for seven minutes because of two early fouls. The frustration started showing early when he picked up a silly technical foul for bouncing the ball off of Walter Hodges' head.

On the next trip down the court, Ray fouled Taurean Green on a 3-pointer, and Wright was forced to pull one of his stars and leaders.

Ray angrily untucked his jersey and smacked himself on the head several times as he went to the bench, watching helplessly as his team fell behind by as many as 12 points before halftime.

With the Gators pushing the lead in the second half, Ray couldn't bounce out of his slump. He didn't make his first shot of the period until the 7:43 mark, and by the time he sank his second - a 3-pointer that made it 70-59 with 1:42 to play - the game was all but over.

Wright spoke glowingly of Foye and Ray all weekend, gushing about their leadership and impact on the younger players.

As Ray exited the college stage for the final time with 28.9 seconds left, Wright embraced the crestfallen guard, whispering encouragement into his ear and patting him on the backside.

''I just told him I loved him and there's been nobody like them,'' Wright said. ''They've set the tone for what we want great players to be.''

Ray took a seat on the bench and then was forced to look at something much more painful than any stat line in a box score - the Florida Gators storming the court, celebrating a berth in the Final Four that Ray so desperately wanted.

''This is going to hurt for a while,'' Ray said. ''If you look back at the year we had, we can't be disappointed. We had a great year. We did a lot of good things. It just hurts.''

For more on Florida's trip to the Final Four, check out GatorBait.net.
For more on Villanova's disappointing finale, check out VUSports.com.


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