Eugene Rapay

The last time Villanova made the Final Four, Ryan Arcidiacono was in New York for a youth AAU tournament.

It was in 2009, when Scottie Reynolds went coast-to-coast and had his famous buzzer beater to beat Pittsburgh and send Villanova to the Final Four.

“I remember watching the game and we hit the shot,” Arcidiacono said. “I remember I was running and jumping up and down in the hotel hallway and getting noise complaints.”

Reynolds’ game-winner is forever etched in Villanova lore. Placed right next to that win and big time shot is Saturday’s 64-59 win over top overall seed Kansas.

Arcidiacono celebrated his 22nd birthday by getting the Wildcats’ ticket to Houston punched in for the Final Four.

“Best one ever for sure,” he said. “My 22nd birthday was better than my 21st. It’s unbelievable, but I don’t want to focus anything on me, it was a whole team effort.”

Saturday’s win may not have had an iconic buzzer beating shot, but it certainly had its fair share of drama.

After winning the first three NCAA Tournament games in lopsided fashion, the Elite Eight game against Kansas was very different.

The game was close from start to finish, with neither team able to take double-digit lead.

The Wildcats mainly relied on their offense and shooting to pave the way to victory, but it was their defense that came through when it mattered most.

“We can grind games out and win on the defensive end,” Arcidiacono said. “I think we did that tonight. We ended up shooting the lights out of the ball the first three games in the tournament. We knew it would come to an end at some point.”

After a Kansas and-one by Wayne Selden Jr. gave the Jayhawks a 45-40 lead midway through the second half, the Wildcats responded with a 10-0 run that was topped off by back-to-back threes from Arcidiacono and Hart.

Villanova took a narrow 50-45 lead and clung onto the narrow advantage throughout the second half, with Kansas right behind it.

Eventually, with 13.1 seconds remaining, the Jayhawks had an opportunity to tie the game at 62. Trailing by three, Frank Mason III attempted to drive to the basket.

Arcidiacono knocked the ball loose and as it bounced onto the floor, Mikal Bridges lunged for it. Once he secured the ball, the Wildcats were able to quickly call for a time out with 4.6 seconds left in the game.

On the following inbounds pass, the ball was delivered cleanly to Jalen Brunson and he was promptly fouled by Kansas defenders.

With a 62-59 lead and now 3.5 seconds left in the game, he had a chance to put the game out of reach.

The freshman guard stepped to the line and delivered. He tuned out the noise from Jayhawk fans and proceeded to sink two free throws.

Once the final buzzer sounded, the Wildcats could finally breathe.

Last week, they proved that they could make it past the first weekend. On Saturday night, the Wildcats showed that they weren’t content with just getting to the Sweet 16. They’re looking to make a run for the national title.

“Be aggressive, be tough, play hard, play together,” Villanova forward Kris Jenkins said. “That’s what our program is built on, and that’s what we were able to execute down the stretch.”

Arcidiacono, Jenkins, and Josh Hart each had a team-high 13 points.

The Wildcats had their worst three-point shooting performance of the tournament thus far, converting only 4-of-18 (22.2 percent) shots from long range.

The three ball is what had gotten Villanova to this point, as it shot a tournament-best 33-of-62 (53.2 percent) from beyond the arc in the first three games.

This time around, the ‘Cats used an inside attack, going 16-of-34 (47.0 percent) from within the three-point line. They were near-perfect from the free throw line, shooting 18-of-19 at the charity stripe.

On defense, it forced 16 turnovers and held Kansas to just 25 points in the first half. The Jayhawks’ leading scorer, Perry Ellis, was restricted to just four points off of 1-of-5 shooting.

However, guards Mason III, Selden Jr., and Devonte’ Graham were able to find ways to score on the tough Villanova defense.

Graham had a game-high 17 points and was 5-of-9 from long range. Mason III and Selden Jr. each had 16 points.

Oklahoma now waits for Villanova in Houston. The Sooners overwhelmed the Wildcats back in December, beating the Wildcats 78-55.

Villanova will celebrate the Elite Eight win now, but looks forward to a shot at revenge.

“Oklahoma is an extremely well-coached team with great players,” Villanova forward Daniel Ochefu said. “It’s going to be a battle. We take it upon ourselves to make the game extremely ugly.”