Villanova basketball fans brace for Saturday's big game

Villanova juniors Jamal Abdur-Rahman (left) and Felix Espinosa talk Thursday's win.
Villanova juniors Jamal Abdur-Rahman (left) and Felix Espinosa talk Thursday's win. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 23, 2014

When he filled out his bracket for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, Felix Espinosa tossed his lucky quarter into the air for each round.

It landed tails every time for his Villanova Wildcats, taking them to the championship game this year at Madison Square Garden. At least on paper.

Despite a somewhat shaky victory Thursday night against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the tournament's first round, students on the school's campus on Friday expressed high hopes for the Wildcats, a team that has maintained a near constant presence in the tournament since the mid-2000s.

"Got to stay true to the quarter," said Espinosa, 20, a Villanova criminology major who grew up in New York City. "You can't mess with Lady Luck."

Villanova has been without a men's basketball championship since 1985, long before most of its underclassmen were born. And yet the Wildcats remain an integral part of the school's center of gravity for many students.

"That's why I came here, because I love basketball," said Stephanie Moran, 19, a freshman physics major from Manorville, N.Y. "I will drop all the money in my account to go to the Final Four."

Unlike some stars at other universities, players at Villanova, with an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,500, do not come off as gods walking among the mortals.

"They're always part of the community," said Espinosa. "You'll see them. They'll say 'hi' to people."

And even if they don't, they're still noticed.

"I had class with Josh Hart," Moran said gleefully of the freshman guard who scored 11 points in Thursday's 73-53 victory. "He moved my jacket once because he wanted to sit down."

On Saturday, Villanova will play the University of Connecticut, which beat St. Joseph's, another local Catholic University and prevented a "holy war" in this year's tournament between the Wildcats and St. Joe's Hawks.

The campus is expected to become a ghost town as dorm rooms and local establishments fill with fans.

"If someone makes a shot, you'll hear it all the way down the hallway," said freshman Bobby McCabe, 18, who is from Chicago.

He and friend Sam Sundook, another freshman, invested in some Villanova tuxedo morph suits, which cover the body from head to toe and feature a giant V across a face mask.

"We have the next three years to wear them," Sundook said.


bfinley@phillynews.com

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