NEW ORLEANS — An enduring image of the NCAA Final Four will be Villanova coach Jay Wright sitting on the bench with his arm around injured starting guard Justin Moore shortly before tip-off of the Wildcats’ semifinal matchup against Kansas.
His absence from the court was conspicuous during the first half, when Kansas quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead while Villanova’s offense looked stagnant.
Moore was a second-team All-Big East selection this season. The 6-foot-4 Moore averaged 34.4 minutes, 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per outing in 36 games. But he tore his Achilles in the final minute of Villanova’s regional final victory win over Houston last weekend.
Moore was dribbling against a defender and appeared to slip and fall. He then went back down after trying to get up.
Before the game, Moore spoke about the emotional support he’s been receiving from his family, Villanova and beyond.
“It was great for me personally. I needed people by my side. I was feeling hurt and down,” Moore said. “Them saying they love me and they have my back and giving encouraging words, that really helped me.”
Well-wishers have included NBA star Kevin Durant, who experienced a similar injury while playing for Golden State in 2019.
“He called me right away. He facetimed me,” Moore said. “I wasn’t expecting that. I was still a little bit off from the medicine. That, right there, kind of snapped me out of it. It was a great feeling.”
“He was telling me that my career isn’t over. It’s just begun,” Moore continued. “An injury like this, a torn Achilles, you can come back from it. In previous years, people would think your career is over, but he was letting me know that my career isn’t over. He said I can always hit him up for advice.”
Moore also described his recollections of the moment the injury happened.
‘It was really nerve-wracking and hard for me. We were winning that game and playing great basketball as a team and going into the Final Four,” Moore said. “People saw me crying and stuff. It was a lot of emotions going through. I had to sit back and take it all in.
“My family was there and my teammates were there to help me. If I didn’t have them by my side, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”
Country singer Eric Church took considerable heat in San Antonio for postponing a sold out concert in the city on Saturday night so he could go to the Final Four instead.
Church is a North Carolina native and has been a lifelong Tar Heels fan. And he wasn’t going to miss North Carolina’s historic first NCAA Tournament clash against in-state rival Duke in the national semifinals.
Earlier Saturday, Church issued a public statement in which he thanked his fans in San Antonio for “letting me take my family to this game.”
“It took a minute to figure out how and when I could properly express my thanks,” Church said in the statement, who added that his way of doing so would be to hold a concert on Sept. 2 at the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels. He described it as a “one of a kind free show for those of you who bought tickets and were planning to attend our cancelled San Antonio show.”