Every now and then, and it is rare, a basketball team turns in a performance like Villanova did on Saturday night, the kind where there are almost no words to describe it.
Once the field of 64 is down to 16, there are no cheap and easy games on paper anymore. They are all formidable opponents.
Against Miami, Kansas and Oklahoma, the Wildcats held their own and then some, leading with defense first. That system has Jay Wright’s team playing like a well-oiled machine.
Villanova’s last game, in the Elite Eight, had been anything but perfect. It wasn’t their best shooting night and they did have to deal with early foul trouble. But they used defense to create turnovers, draw fouls and force shots that led to rebounds.
It’s almost an old-fashioned approach, but there is nothing old about it. Tried and true, defense is what wins. And when it came time to go down to the other end of the floor, Villanova operated with precision that is rivaled by few.
The Wildcats have several players capable of shooting the three-point shot, so many that it forces opposing defenses to guard the three-point line a little tighter.
On Saturday, when Oklahoma would bite, Daniel Ochefu was waiting inside, or a quick move by one of the guards would catch the Sooners napping. Most of those plays went for an easy two points. And when the Sooners took Ochefu away, they would cycle the ball quickly and find the open man for the long-range two or three-pointer. And they just kept making the shots.
Kris Jenkins, Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth — it didn’t matter who was shooting. The shots were falling.
But what really told you everything you need to know is Jay Wright’s use of a timeout early in the second half. Jordan Woodard grabbed a rebound off a missed free throw and went untouched for the lay-up. As soon as there is a lapse in attention to detail or execution that cannot be overlooked, Jay Wright stops play and settles the troops.
Villanova never looked back after that.
It’s one thing to have one game where the shooting is nearly impeccable. The Wildcats looked that way in their second-round game against Iowa. But to do it for three of their last five games, all in the tournament, is not only impressive, but a daunting task for any team.
In the same sense, Villanova has looked some daunting opponents in the eye and stuck to what brought them this far. The overall No. 1 seed provided a challenge to the Wildcats, who didn’t have their best shooting night against Kansas, but the Wildcats stuck to a defensive game.
Miami was a No. 3 seed. Oklahoma was a No. 2 seed and a Top-10 team. North Carolina is the last team between them and the first National Championship for a Big 5 school since 1985.
It is a select list: the 1985 Villanova Wildcats and the 1954 La Salle Explorers. That’s it. Those are the two Philly-area Big 5 schools that have come home with a National Championship.
Playing like a championship team already, Villanova is one win away from joining that group and cementing their place in college basketball history. They owe Jay Wright’s attention to detail and focus on both sides of the ball for that.
Kevin Durso is editorial assistant for Sports Talk Philly. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.