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April 03, 2016

For Villanova, another historic shooting performance in Final Four

HOUSTON — For reporters, postgame note packets can be hit-or-miss. With your average game, the statistics that are found on their pages — “Player X posted his second career double-double while also shooting over 65 percent” — don’t really mean all that much.

Then, there is Villanova’s 95-51 victory over Oklahoma. I mean, look at the first three notes. Those are some notes!

Villanova’s shooting on Saturday night was pure insanity. Bananas. Stupid. Cray cray. The only better performance from the field in Final Four history just so happens to be the most famous game in school history. What is it with 'Nova catching fire like nobody else on college basketball’s biggest stage?

“Well, that was just one of those games that could happen to anybody,” Jay Wright said. “I feel bad for Oklahoma that it happened to them in the Final Four.”

He isn’t the only one. Wright is genuinely polite, and he admitted to apologizing to Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger after the game. It’s not the first time this tournament that he said sorry to his opposite number after his team couldn’t miss for 40 minutes. 

UNC Asheville

'Nova made a mockery of the idea that it’s difficult to make perimeter shots in a dome. With way this team has shot the ball over the past two weeks against top-notch competition, you would fully expect them to crack 50 percent playing outside in gale force winds.

Even when the Wildcats’ shots weren’t pure against Oklahoma, they still found a way to drop.

“It was one of those nights,” Ryan Arcidiacono said after continuing a torrid NCAA Tournament with 5-6 shooting from the field and 3-4 shooting from deep. “We just ended up making shots, the ball seemed to bounce our way, and we just seemed to make everything.”

Believe it or not, the Wildcats’ only Final Four appearance between 1985 and this year played a major role in this special performance. Specifically, Wright used that convincing 2009 loss at the hands of UNC as a learning tool.

Scottie Reynolds, Dante Cunningham, and Co. didn’t practice shooting enough at Detroit’s cavernous Ford Field as Wright would’ve liked. Once the Wildcats made it back to the Final Four, that changed. Over the last three days, the team got plenty of shots up in the home of the Houston Texans.

“I don't think when we played in '09, which is the first year we played in one of these big stadiums, I don't think we had a closed practice on Thursday,” Wright said. “We talked to our guys about that a lot. We actually got four shooting workouts in. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, today, a walk-through, then pregame shooting.”

“When you have a coach who's been here, he tells us all the things he remembers going on, things he wish he could have did differently when he got back,” Josh Hart said.

The second time around, Wright, his staff, and the players made no mistake. All of the 'Nova players took more pride in their defensive effort (excellent in its own right) after the game, but the second-most efficient offense in the country (Hint: No. 1 belongs to Monday night’s opponent) was firing on all cylinders.

One of the reasons for Villanova’s success is their ability to play inside-out, as opposed to it being exclusively the other way around for so many years. Daniel Ochefu is a legit post-up threat who contributed 10 points on 4-5 shooting to go with four assists.

If Oklahoma guarded Ochefu one-on-one, he scored. If an extra Sooner came his way, he made the correct read (usually to Kris Jenkins). As Phil Booth put it, “Daniel is like a point guard down there the way he passes the ball.” Booth’s fellow point guard agreed.

“He was finding the open guy, and he was making the right play at the right time,” Jalen Brunson said of Ochefu. “We just kept feeding him and he kept producing.”

In the second half, 'Nova used hot shooting and tenacious defense to slap together a 25-0 run and put the game away.

“I didn’t know that was possible,” Ochefu said. “Wow.”

Ochefu was talking about the run, but the sentiment also fits the entire offensive performance by 'Nova. Wow.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann