'Nova Looking for the Upset

DETROIT — Villanova has gone to the Sweet 16 the last three of four years, and even made the Elite Eight in 2006, when the Wildcats lost to eventual NCAA champion Florida.

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 tournament.

“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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