LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There is a reason Villanova is playing its best basketball of the season, making all the right decisions, hitting all the big three-pointers, hustling for all the loose balls. Villanova is being challenged by a powerhouse. It is the one the Wildcats see every time they look in the mirror.
“You’re playing against your opponent, but sometimes your biggest opponent is yourself,” said Josh Hart, whose big second half contributed to an even bigger second half for his team and sent Villanova running away from Miami, 92-69, on Thursday night and into the Elite Eight. “We focus on having each other’s back, and if we know that we’ll do that, we’ll be good.”
Having pushed itself since the start of the NCAA Tournament, Villanova has looked as good as or better than any other team in The Big Dance. On Thursday night, the Wildcats made shots from all over the court — including one from way, way outside — and never trailed. They did let Miami close within one late in the first half, but that didn’t last.
“In the huddle, we got on each other, refocused and got back to what we were doing,” said center Daniel Ochefu, whose 17-point inside presence neutralized and eventually fouled out Miami 7-footer Tonye Jekiri.
With Villanova setting such a high standard for itself, there was nothing that stellar Miami guards Sheldon McClellan (26 points) and Angel Rodriguez (13 points, eight assists) could do. The Wildcats shot a scorching 62.7 percent from the floor, 66.7 percent from three-point range.
“We always feel that if we go in and play Villanova basketball, we’re going to be successful,” said Hart, who sat after picking up two quick fouls in the first 2:19, then scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half.
No one or nothing says “Villanova basketball” like Ryan Arcidiacono. The senior guard grew up in Pennsylvania, rooting for the team and dreaming of playing for it. As of Thursday night, he has played in 141 games for Villanova, more than anyone else. This was one of his best, as he set an aggressive tone with 13 of his 21 points in the first 8:51.
“I’m sure he thought, ‘We’re in the Sweet 16, I’m a senior. I’m going to make sure we get going the right way,’ ” coach Jay Wright said.
Arcidiacono said, “I think we’re just taking better shots. Throughout the season, we didn’t really mix it up. I think we are doing that now.”
If there was one shot that encapsulated Villanova’s confidence and accuracy, it was the one by Jenkins with 1:06 left in the first half. He fired from well beyond the three-point line and drew a huge roar when it went in for a 41-32 lead. “The shot clock was running out and I just didn’t have anything else to do,” said Jenkins, who had 21 points and shot 5-for-6 from downtown.
Miami (27-8) hadn’t seen anything like it all season. “Nobody shot the three and stretched out our defense like these guys did,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “They only took 15 threes. It seemed like they took 30 and made 25. They throw it out to Kris Jenkins and he buries a 35-footer like it’s a layup.”
Villanova is especially golden in the Bluegrass State. The last time the Wildcats played an NCAA Tournament contest in the state of Kentucky was the 1985 championship game against Georgetown. They shot pretty well that night, too.