LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – The Villanova Wildcats keep looking for a better shot, not content with simply a good look at the basket.
As a result, they’re putting on quite the clinic in the NCAA Tournament with their latest performance putting them into the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.
Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins each scored 21 points and No. 2 seed Villanova never trailed in routing third-seeded Miami 92-69 Thursday night in the South Region semifinal of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats turned in their best shooting performance yet in this tournament, shooting 62.7 percent.
“If any team is shooting the way we’re shooting right now, they’ll easily be the most dangerous team in the country,” Villanova senior forward Daniel Ochefu said. “But hopefully, we’ll keep shooting like that, so we can keep playing the way we are.”
The Wildcats (32-5) earned their third trip to the regional final with coach Jay Wright and seventh overall, coming through with former coach Rollie Massimino, who led Villanova to the 1985 national championship, sitting nearby.
Villanova will play either top-seeded Kansas or No. 5 seed Maryland on Saturday in the regional final. It’s redemption after losses on the opening weekend each of the past two NCAA Tournaments.
“These last couple years and a couple early exits wasn’t the best thing for our program, but I think we just remain humble and try to get back,” Arcidiacono said. “It’s just a great feeling.”
Ochefu added 17 points, and Josh Hart had 14 for Villanova, which shot 62.7 percent (32 of 51).
Miami (27-8) now is 0-3 in this round and 0-2 with coach Jim Larranaga.
“They’re just an incredible offensive team,” Larranaga said of Villanova. “We had no way to stop them.”
Sheldon McClellan scored 26 points for Miami, tying a career-high making five 3s. Angel Rodriguez added 13.
Miami got here by beating a pair of double-digit seeds, Buffalo and Wichita State. Villanova showed the team from the Atlantic Coast Conference why the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in program history earlier this season. It was the first game between the teams in the NCAA Tournament, and the first overall since March 2004, when both teams were in the Big East.
They turned in a dizzying first half with both teams shooting 64 percent — or better — from the floor and were even sharper beyond the arc where they combined to hit 13 of 19.
“Look at the numbers, it’s kind of crazy to think that was good defense,” Wright said. “But I’m very proud of the second-half defense. When you play great teams like Miami, that’s going to happen. We just got more stops than them.”
Villanova led 43-37 at halftime with Jenkins coming through with the highlight shot of the game, knocking down a 3 with his left foot on the edge of the logo covering midcourt that instantly drew comparisons online to shots by reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry.
Villanova took control from the start by scoring the first eight points. The Wildcats also forced Miami into a bunch of turnovers early and scored some easy points off those mistakes. Villanova took its biggest lead at 29-14 on a 3-pointer by Jenkins with 8:35 left.
“It was a bit of a surprise they came out on fire like that,” McClellan said.
When Miami put together a 16-2 run that pulled the Canes within 31-30 on Rodriguez’s layup with 4:33 to go, Jenkins simply hit another 3. Miami never got that close again, and Villanova just padded its lead over the final minutes with each dunk or 3 giving Wildcats’ fans yet another reason to cheer.
TERESA M. WALKER