Friendship will take a backseat in Villanova-Miami matchup

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Villanova prepares for Miami. (WPVI)

Friendship takes a backseat at the NCAA Tournament, especially with a berth in the Elite Eight on the line.

Just ask Villanova coach Jay Wright.

Wright has recruited and coached against Jim Larranaga for years. They grew close traveling together on Nike trips, sitting beside each other at AAU events or hitting balls on the golf course. They also have swapped ideas for basketball drills. They have spent so much time together that their wives became friends too.

Throw all of that out of the window on Thursday night - for a couple of hours at least.

Wright and No. 2 seed Villanova will square off against Larranaga's third-seeded Miami Hurricanes in the South Region semifinal at the KFC Yum! Center.

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Villanova prepares for Miamia in the Sweet 16.

"When you get to the Sweet 16, final eight, Final Four that kind of goes away," Wright said Wednesday of not wanting to coach against friends or former assistants. "I don't know why. Because you're so focused on what you do, you're so happy to be here. And usually, when you get to this point, it's guys you know."

The coaches have shared enough over the years that when Larranaga studies Villanova (31-5) he sees of lot of Miami; the Wildcats use so many ball screens and multiple defenses that it's almost a mirror image of his Hurricanes.

"I've just enjoyed getting to know him and exchanging drills with him and talking basketball," Larranaga said.

This will be the fourth game between the coaches, with Wright winning twice while Larranaga has the edge in their only NCAA Tournament meeting in 2011 with he was with George Mason, according to STATS.

Now Larranaga has Miami (27-7) in the Sweet 16 for only the third time for a program that has never gone any further.


"We definitely want to be the first group of guys to do that, and it will be a big accomplishment for us and the program," Miami guard Sheldon McClellan said.


Some things to watch Thursday night:

NO PRESSURE: Villanova is trying to reach its first Elite Eight since 2009 when the Wildcats last reached a Final Four. These Wildcats have already held the first No. 1 ranking in school history when they sat atop the Top 25 three straight weeks in February. They handle pressure by embracing Wright's approach that the worst thing that can happen to them is losing a game. "The worst-case scenario in the NCAA is, lose in the first round," senior forward Daniel Ochefu said. "We did that before. If we don't get to the Sweet 16, we did that before. Now it's just a different challenge."

MINI-WRIGHT: Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono has played a program-record 140 games for Villanova, and the point guard says he has the same mindset as his coach. It likely helps that both Arcidiacono and Wright both are from the same county in Pennsylvania (Bucks), though Arcidiacono played at a rival high school. "If he could still play, I think he would pick me as the player to play him," Arcidiacono said.

LARRANGA'S 3-POINT DRILL: Wright said he uses Larranaga's philosophy on who's allowed to shoot 3-pointers while using numbers instead of colors. Larranaga allows players who hit 50 3s in 5 minutes to earn a green light to shoot, 40-50 3s for a yellow light. Shooting 40 or fewer 3s means don't even think of shooting. "If they leave you open, there is a reason," Larranaga said. "You can't make the shot."

SHARP-SHOOTING: Villanova has been averaging 81.8 points per game since Feb. 24, and the Wildcats shot even better during the first two games in this tournament. They shot 58.6 percent in beating UNC Asheville and Iowa. Miami ranks 27th nationally, shooting 48 percent per game.

AT THE LINE: Miami has a great knack of drawing fouls, making more free throws this season (569) than the Hurricanes' opponents even attempted (565). They rank 22nd nationally, shooting 75 percent.



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