Nova and KU Ready to Go Toe to Toe

DETROIT — Bill Self and his Jayhawks are ready for the biggest game of their lives in the biggest venue of their lives Friday night against Villanova in the Sweet 16. The winner goes to the Elite Eight on Sunday. And the loser goes home.

Expect a battle of wills in this 8:40 p.m. (CST) tipoff at Ford Field (72, 818), the home of the Detroit Lions. Paid attendance is expected to exceed 105,000 this weekend in Detroit, breaking a record for the largest crowd ever for a regional.

While Villanova (22-12) is a No. 12 seed, Self knows KU (33-3) will have to play its best game of the NCAA tournament to beat the Wildcats.

“I think the thing that stands out first and foremost is how hard they play and how hard they compete,” Bill Self said. “They take great pride in getting 78 or 80 percent of the 50/50 balls. They steal extra possessions for their team. I think they’re great defensively and they’re getting better.

“They have interchangeable parts defensively. So you could have a 6-8 guy guarding a point, you could have a 6-0 guy guarding a center. They’re tough enough they can do that and be effective.”

Villanova has been quite effective the past three weeks. The Wildcats, who lost five straight games in late January and early February, have now won five of their last six  games. Villanova rallied from an 18-point halftime deficit to upset Clemson, 75-69, in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and then beat Siena, 84-72, to advance to the Sweet 16.

Villanova goes nine deep and has eight players averaging at least 18 minutes per game. It all starts with 6-2 do-it-all sophomore point guard Scottie Reynolds, who leads the Wildcats with 16 points per game, 77 three-pointers, 113 assists, and 49 steals. Reynolds led Villanova in scoring in the first two tournament games with 21 against Clemson and a game-high 25 points versus Siena.

Junior forward Dante Cunningham is the only other player in double figures at 10.4 points per game. Cunningham leads the team in rebounds (6.4 rpg) and blocks (31), and ranks second with 45 steals. Freshman guard Cory Fisher averages 9.2 points (second on the team with 41 threes and 88 assists), followed by freshman forward Antonio Pena and junior forward Shane Clark, who both average 7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Freshman guard Corey Stokes and junior guard/forward Dwayne Anderson are next in scoring at 6.4 points points per game, while freshman guard Malcolm Grant (5.6 ppg) and sophomore guard Reggie Redding (4.6 ppg) also contribute to the attack.

Sophomore center Casiem Drummond fractured his right ankle in the Siena game, and is out for the season. At 6-10, Drummond will be sorely missed; he is the team’s tallest player. Cunningham and Pena are just 6-8, and will be severely tested guarding KU’s big men.

While Reynolds, Cunningham and Fisher have been big guns all season, Stokes and Anderson helped spark Villanova’s turnaround in February after losing five straight games. Stokes, who scored a career-high 20 points against Clemson, has been the team’s second-leading scorer since Feb. 11 at 12.6 points per game, while the previously seldom-used Anderson has averaged 9.9 points and 7.3 boards since being inserted in the starting lineup on Feb. 9.

The Wildcats outrebound opponents 36.1 to 33.3 and outscore foes 73.2 points to 69.4.  Villanova ranks third in the Big East in rebounding defense, though the Wildcats shoot just 43.3 percent from the field. However, Villanova has been red-hot of late, shooting 50 percent from the field against Clemson and 53.6 percent versus Siena.

Villanova spreads the floor offensively, and that concerns Self.

“They make it really hard to help from different positions,” Self said. “When they’re making shots, they’re (extremely) hard to defend because they really spread you out.”

KU will definitely have to contain Reynolds, who reminds Self and the Jayhawks’ players of Texas star point guard D.J. Augustin.

“(He’s) a great player,” said junior guard Brandon Rush. “He can shoot the ball or take it to the rack. He gets to the free-throw line whenever he wants to. We have to guard him and try to take him out of the game because he is the key to the game for them.”

“From the outside looking in, he takes great pride in having the ball in his hands as much as possible,” Self added. “He wants to make the pass to finish the play. He wants to shoot the ball to finish the play. When you put so much emphasis on stopping him, he’s plenty good enough to make others better and look really good.”

Self is certainly aware of Reynolds’ teammates.

“Some guys are just starting to score the ball consistently, like Corey Stokes,” Self said. “He’s a good scorer. His season stats wouldn’t say that because he didn’t play as much early. And Fisher is a terrific scorer. Cunningham is consistent. They have guys like us that can go out and get anywhere from seven to 10 (points) a night, and you don’t look at them as being prolific scorers, but at the end of the night they have 75 points.”

The Jayhawks know the Wildcats won’t be easy.

“They are fast, quick, and tough,” said sophomore guard Sherron Collins. “We have to take care of the ball and not give them opportunities to run. They are a tough team and are not going to back down. ... Their guards play and they have bigs who play like guards, they step back and shoot jumpers.”

Collins and company are are hyped about playing in front of such a huge crowd at Ford Field.

“It’s going to be great,” Rush said. “We are going to have a packed house with most of our fans and some of their fans.”

The Jayhawks know they’re one win away from the Elite Eight and two victories from the school’s 13th Final Four.

And they don’t want to go home just yet.

Senior guard Russell Robinson is ready to bring his ‘A’ game to the Motor City.

“It brings back the New York City feel that I’m used to,” he said about playing in Detroit. “You can’t let the pressure get to you. This is the stage you want to perform on and perform your best, so you have to go out and be ready to give it your all.” Top Stories