After advancing to the Final Four in 2009, the Villanova Wildcats didn’t advance past the Round of 32 for six straight seasons.
Well, now they have. Villanova made short work of its opening-weekend opponents, beating UNC-Asheville and Iowa by a combined 49 points.
The proverbial monkey? Yeah, it’s off the back.
“I’ve always thought (the tournament is) so much about match-ups, it’s about who’s playing well, timing, injuries, and the psyche of your team,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We’ve always evaluated our program by how we play in the regular season and how we do in the Big East. We’ve been very successful over the last few years, but we never discounted the fact that nationally you get evaluated by how you do in the tournament – and there’s nothing wrong with that. People nationally, that’s what they see. So when people were questioning us, it was annoying but it wasn’t like they were making up lies about us. They were right. You got to answer the question. We try to teach our guys that if you’re going to take the praise when you win Big East championships and you take all that, then we got to take the heat when we don’t advance. It’s part of being a big-time athlete.”
After winning Sunday in convincing fashion – the 19-point margin of victory doesn’t do justice to how thoroughly Villanova throttled Iowa – Wright celebrated with his players in the locker room, jumping up and down, clasping hands and hugging.
It was pure joy.
“I was proud of them, how they took care of business and kept their focus on the present to get us to this point,” Wright said. “And then I was just thrilled for our seniors. We have five seniors – three walk-ons and two leaders in Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono. I was thrilled for those seniors that they could get to a Sweet 16 in their senior year.”
Arcidiacono had 16 point and four assists against Iowa, while Ochefu had six points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three steals.
No. 2 Villanova (31-5) will face No. 3 Miami (27-7) on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Villanova’s top task will be containing senior point guard Angel Rodriguez, who had 28 points, five assists and four steals in a 65-57 win over Wichita State on Saturday.
“Rodriguez is kind of the X-factor there,” Wright said. “Whatever they run, they’re very well-coached obviously. Jim Larranaga has won everywhere he’s been. They execute extremely well. Outstanding defensive team. But at any time, if anything breaks down, they got a guy like Rodriguez who can just go get buckets. He just gets buckets, gets himself to the foul line, makes free throws, makes a play for somebody, he’s got a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, 80 percent from the foul line, and hits threes at a 33 percent clip. He is a guy (on) a really talented team, a very disciplined team, that can just make the big plays at the big time. It’s going to be a hell of a game, man. They’re good. They’re really good.”