Villanova's win over Xavier on Saturday marked Jay Wright's 500th career coaching victory. He collected his first 122 wins during his seven seasons at Hofstra from 1994-2001. The last 378 have come during his 16-year tenure at Villanova, where he has established himself as one of the premiere coaches in college basketball.
I sat down with Wright recently to discuss the magnitude of reaching this milestone as well as his most memorable victories along the road to 500.
"The number 500 is kind of daunting to me," Wright said. "I really don't think about it and I don't count myself with the guys that I know like Coach (Rollie) Massimino that have 500 wins. I like it better that way, I like it better when I'm not one of those guys. I'm a little uncomfortable talking about it, a little uncomfortable thinking about it. But I know when I'm finished my career it's something you look back on and take great pride in.
"I've been doing this (coaching) my whole life, I've done nothing else and it seems like I've been doing it a long time. To think that guys like Mike Krzyzewski (have over 1,000 career wins), Rollie Massimino went over 800, I don't think I've got that in me. Five hundred is enough."
Win No. 184
January 22, 2005
Villanova 83, Kansas 62
Wells Fargo Center - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Wright's first win over a Top 5 opponent. This victory came on a snowy weekend in South Philadelphia, the day before the Eagles beat the Falcons in the NFC Championship game. Wright's prized first recruiting class of Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Curtis Sumpter, and Jason Fraser arrived at the midpoint of their junior seasons still looking for that first signature win. After NIT appearances in Wright's first three seasons, Villanova was in desperate need of a breakthrough performance to catapult the program to the next level.
A visit from No. 2 Kansas was just what the doctor ordered. The Wildcats blitzed the Jayhawks from the opening tip and cruised to a 21-point win. Ray and Sumpter combined for 52 points as Villanova shot 63 percent from three-point range and secured a momentum-building win that would eventually lead to the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years.
"It's amazing how the big games in the program, you don't think anything about them beforehand. There was a huge snowstorm, we were just worried about playing the game. This was supposed to be a sold out crowd. Actually, probably 9 or 10 thousand people showed, which was amazing.
"We just got crazy hot. We made everything. There was nothing Kansas was going to do that day (to beat us). I think we were up 40 at some point in that game, it was crazy. But I remember driving home and everybody kind of pulled off to the side on (Route) 476 because they were stuck. We'd slow down and ask 'Are you OK?' and they all had their Villanova gear on and they were at the game. The only people on 476 that day were the people at the game, no one else was driving."
Win No. 218
February 13, 2006
Villanova 69, UConn 64
Wells Fargo Center - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Wright's first win over a No. 1 team. It was also the first time in 11 years that Villanova upended the top-ranked team in the country. The Wells Fargo Center was packed for this showdown between Big East heavyweights. Fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance the previous year, the Wildcats were in the midst of a record-setting season. The Wildcats entered this matchup with a 19-2 record and ranked fourth in the national polls.
Villanova had plenty of star power with Foye, Ray and Kyle Lowry. But UConn's roster was overflowing with NBA talent — Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone were the headliners. But this night belonged to Ray, who scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and knocked down five three-point field goals. The Wildcats went on to win a then school-record 28 games before losing to eventual national champion Florida in the Elite 8.
"We had never beaten a number one team before. We had a great crowd at the Wells Fargo Center and we pulled that off. I remember Randy Foye being crowd surfed along the court, and that was our first big court storming. That was definitely one of the great memories of our time here."
Win No. 300
March 28, 2009
Villanova 78, Pittsburgh 76
TD Bank Garden - Boston, Massachusetts
Wright's first trip to the Final Four. After falling one step short three years earlier, Villanova kicked down the door to college basketball's final weekend courtesy of what was at the time the most significant shot in program history. Scottie Reynolds' full court sprint and runner in the lane with a half second left gave the Wildcats a two-point win over their Big East rival. It marked Wright's first Elite Eight victory and Villanova's fourth trip to the Final Four.
Seniors Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham combined for 31 points while Reynolds added 15, including the two biggest points of his record-setting career. The Wildcats would lose to eventual national champion North Carolina one week later in the Final Four. It was the fourth time in the previous five years that the Wildcats' season was ended by the national champ.
"I don't think we were ever as relaxed in a game as we were in that Final Eight game against Pitt because we had played them already during the season and it was a Big East battle. Usually at that time you're playing against a team that you don't really know a lot about, you see them on TV all year but you never play them. Pitt we had played against and we were so comfortable and we felt like 'Hey it's just a Big East battle.' I really think that helped us play with great confidence.
"It was an awesome game, Pitt deserved to win just as much as we did. I definitely remember even though Scottie hit that shot, they had time left. (Levance) Fields took a shot from right in front of me. I was watching the trajectory of that shot as the clock went off and the horn sounded, it looked like it was going right in. It just missed and it was a relief, and then all I remember is the celebration."
Win No. 440
March 14, 2015
Villanova 69, Xavier 52
Madison Square Garden - New York, New York
Wright's first Big East Tournament championship. As successful as the program had been under Wright over the past decade, this was the first time Villanova had even played in the Big East Tournament final. The Wildcats were eliminated in the semifinals on a number of occasions during Wright's tenure and were upset in the quarterfinals by Seton Hall the previous year.
But Villanova wouldn't be denied against Xavier on this Saturday night in Manhattan. The Wildcats built a 13-point halftime lead and cruised to a 17-point victory, their 32nd win of the season. Sophomore Josh Hart capped a tremendous three-day run with 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting to earn Big East Tournament MVP honors.
Cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden proved to be the high point of the season — top-seeded Villanova was upset by NC State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"That was a great personal thrill. Usually almost every game I don't really have anything personal in it. I've coached so many games, I just want the guys (players) to get it. But playing at the Garden, having coached up there (at Hofstra) for seven years, being in 'The Mecca', and having so much love for the Big East conference, winning that was really a thrill for me.
"I think at the time I said that's as good as winning the NCAA Tournament. I think I said that because I never thought we'd win it. It's not that good (laughs) but it was a thrill. It was a great run for us during that tournament, we played great in every game. Even in that Xavier game in the final, Josh Hart was amazing as a sophomore. And our seniors Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston were awesome."
Win No. 475
April 2, 2016
Villanova 95, Oklahoma 51
NRG Stadium - Houston, Texas
Wright's first Final Four victory was also the biggest blowout in Final Four history. Villanova's 44-point win over Oklahoma came four months after the Sooners had beaten the Wildcats by 23 in the regular season. It added up to a 67-point turnaround that lifted Villanova to its first national championship game appearance in 31 years.
While Oklahoma star Buddy Hield generated the bulk of the pregame headlines, Josh Hart was the best player on the floor. Hart scored 23 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the field and added eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Villanova shot a staggering 71 percent from the field and 61 percent from three-point range.
"The Oklahoma game was surreal in that — just being on that court, 75,000 people, it's elevated — is surreal in itself. Then when that game got going, I remember looking up at the clock and almost having to use my math classes, trying to figure out 'How much are we up by?' It didn't seem real.
"I kind of felt like they could always come back. I think because they had beaten us so badly (earlier in the season) our guys feared no matter what the lead was they could always come back. And that's what made them play so hard and extend the lead. It was almost like that game wasn't real."
Win No. 476
April 4, 2016
Villanova 77, North Carolina 74
NRG Stadium - Houston, Texas
Wright's first National Championship came in arguably the greatest title game in NCAA Tournament history. Villanova's blowout win over Oklahoma two days earlier earned them a date with North Carolina. The Tar Heels had ended Villanova's season three times during Wright's tenure — in the 2005, 2009 and 2013 NCAA Tournaments.
Payback couldn't have been any sweeter for the Wildcats. Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beater is rightfully the lasting image from Villanova's 77-74 win, but Phil Booth's 20 points off the bench were the driving force in the victory. Taking a page from fellow sophomore sixth man Harold Jensen's book 31 years earlier, Booth connected on 6 of 7 field-goal attempts and was a perfect 7 of 7 from the foul line.
NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Ryan Arcidiacono capped his career in style with 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting, not to mention the most memorable assist in NCAA Tournament history.
"The Carolina game in the championship was kind of like the Pitt game in the Final Eight (in 2009). We had never experienced that before so you don't know what it's like, but when you get to that last game there's no one else playing in the country. There's a calm over you that there's no other games. Whatever happens here, we're done. We're so fortunate to be in this game let's just go out and have fun and play.
"I never knew that was the feeling you get because I was never there before. But it was so much fun to be in that game because there was no pressure. Whatever game you play in you want to win. You knew it was the last game, you knew you were going to play great. You just didn't know if you were going to win or lose. You just went out like 'Let's go do it.'
"It was a thrill and seeing Kris hit that shot is something that's embedded in my memory. I just have that vision. It still comes to me sometimes when I wake up in the morning. It was awesome."