Two years later, Villanova is looking to return to the Elite Eight. But the No. 12 seed Wildcats (22-12) must first beat No. 1 Kansas (33-3) in the Sweet 16. Tipoff is at 8:40 p.m. (CST) at Ford Field.
A No. 12 seed has never beaten a No. 1. Villanova knows it will take a
collective effort to upset Kansas.
“I think this has to be our best team basketball
game,” said star sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright said his team faces a huge task after
beating Clemson and Siena in the first two rounds of the NCAA
“We’re playing against arguably one of the best
teams in the country,” Wright said.
“They’ve proven that all year. That’s
what you get when you get to the Sweet 16. We didn’t expect
to play anyone less talented than this. We have great respect for
Kansas. I do personally for Bill Self, what he’s done in his
career. We’re friends. I just love how his teams play. I
really admire the season they’ve had.”
“I think what makes them such a great team is
they’re an outstanding basketball team that plays every
aspect of the game extremely well,” Wright added.
“Great team defense. Great inside game. Outstanding guard
play. Very effective in transition. Very unselfish. The guys that come
off the bench could be starters on teams in this Sweet 16. They come
off the bench and enthusiastically embrace their role.”
And the Jayhawks play great defense. Through games of March 16, KU
ranked No. 5 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.380).
“The team defense is something that we’re very
concerned about,” Wright said. “You got to be able
to score against these guys. Because if you’re not scoring,
they are. I do think that’s probably what separates them from
other outstanding teams that can just score. They can really shut you
down on the defensive end.”
Villanova plays strong defense as well. The Wildcats actually turned
their season around by locking down opponents. Through the first 21
games, Villanova’s opponents shot 45.5 percent from the
field. And during their five-game losing streak in late January and
early February, the Wildcats allowed an average of 80.6 points per
game. Villanova has gone 9-4 since then, and held foes to just 40.2
percent shooting, including 30.8 percent from three-point range.
Moreover, the Wildcats are holding opponents to just 65.3 points in
their last 13 games.
The Villanova players realize they’ll have to step up their
defense to an even higher level on Friday against a very deep and
balanced KU team.
“They have so many ways they can score and it is going to be
a tough challenge,” said junior forward Shane Clark.
“We can’t just focus on (junior guard Brandon) Rush
and (junior guard Mario) Chalmers. We have to focus on everyone because
their entire team from top to bottom is very talented and all of them
have a great ability to score.”
Reynolds believes playing Siena and especially Clemson helped prepare
the Wildcats for Kansas. Villanova rallied from an 18-point halftime
deficit to beat Clemson, 75-69, and advance to the Sweet 16.
“(KU) likes to pressure you defense-wise in the
halfcourt,” Reynolds said. “But Clemson likes to
full-court press you the whole time. I think we did a good job in the
Clemson game just sticking with it. Finally, towards the end of the
game, we kind of got a feel for how to break it and get easy buckets.
So I think that’s gonna help us (against Kansas).”
Villanova is happy to be in the Sweet 16. After all, the Wildcats
weren’t exactly a lock to even make the tournament. Villanova
finished tied for eighth in the BIG EAST at 9-9.
“Some people had doubts on us getting into the
tournament,” said freshman guard Corey Stokes. “I
had some doubts here and there, as did some of my teammates. We just
waited on Selection Sunday and when we saw our name pop up against
Clemson, we started preparing for that game. ... We got excited when we
saw our name up there.”
Now, after upsetting No. 5 seed Clemson to open the Big Dance, the
Wildcats hope to shock the Jayhawks.
“I think we have a good chance of advancing to the (Elite
Eight),” Clark said. “If we play our best, we can
be a tough team to face.”
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