His whole career had come down to this moment. He was the guy with the basketball in his hands with the game on the line. He was the guy Kansas had to foul. He was the guy walking to the free throw line while 12,000 Kansas fans hooted and hollered and a national TV audience watched to see if he would blow the free throws, blow the game, blow the season for Villanova.
That’s all Villanova senior Ryan Arcidiacono faced Saturday night in the final minute of the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament South Region championship game at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
Now, honestly. Did you really think "Arch" was going to miss?
“At that point, I was thinking of every single time I've worked on my free throws throughout my whole life,” Arcidiacono said. “This one gym I especially shot at, (with) my AAU coaches, just by myself with no one in the gym. I was thinking about how we always end practice shooting free throws.
“I thought about our video director, because we were working on my free throw throughout the whole year, and I found a groove throughout the end of the year. So I had a lot of things running through my mind. I was confident it was going to go in.”
With Villanova up 56-54 at 0:33, Arcidiacono made two free throws, and 11 seconds later, with the lead now 58-57, he made two more.
The lead was 60-59 at 0:13 when Kris Jenkins hit two straight, and it was 62-59 when freshman Jalen Brunson finally made it a two-possession game with the clinching foul shots at 0:03.
The slightest slip-up would have left the door open for top-ranked and top-seeded Kansas, but Villanova's foul shots enabled the Wildcats to beat the Jayhawks, 64-59, ending their 17-game winning streak.
None of those eight straight foul shots in the final 33 seconds even touched the rim.
Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish.
The Wildcats do a lot of things well. Their defense has been brilliant in the tournament. Their three-point shooting — even with a terrible shooting night Saturday — has been third-best in the entire NCAA Tournament.
They’re second among all tournament teams in assists, first in steals, fourth in two-point shooting and second in scoring.
But they’re out of this world shooting foul shots.
“I know at the end-of-the-game situation we all want the ball for free throws,” Arcidiacono said. “It's what we start practice with — working on our form all the time. We finish practice the same way.
“In every situation, we'll shoot three, two, one and one and one. Coach puts the pressure on us at the end of practice, and I knew anyone who's going to the line at the end of the game, they were going to be calm, cool and collected making the free throws.
“We know we can shoot the free throws really well. And if we got to the foul line, it would be to our advantage.”
Villanova is second in NCAA Division I in foul shooting at 78.4 percent, trailing only UConn, which made 79.3 percent of its free throws this season.
This year's 'Cats are on track to break Villanova school record for foul shooting. It’s currently 78.1 percent, set by the 2007 team.
So far in NCAA Tournament wins over UNC Asheville, Iowa, Miami and Kansas, Villanova is shooting 85 percent on 56 for 66. The Wildcats made 18 of 19 foul shots in both games in Louisville, a remarkable 94.7 percent in consecutive games.
Villanova is the first team in at least 50 years to shoot 94 percent or better from the line in consecutive NCAA Tournament Games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
In this year’s NCAA Tournament, only South Dakota State (94.1 percent in one game), UConn (91.2 percent in two games) and Utah (.900 in two games) have shot better than the Wildcats from the line.
Villanova has made 90 percent of its foul shots in eight games this year — most of any team in the country over the last six years.
Phil Booth (86.6 percent), Kris Jenkins (85.0 percent) and Arcidiacono (83.0 percent) are all well above 80 percent, and freshmen Mikal Bridges (78.6) and Jalen Brunson (78.2) aren’t far off.
Since Jan. 6, Arcidiacono is shooting 88 percent from the line on 66-75, and Jenkins is right behind at 85.7 percent on 60-70. Since Jan. 20, Booth has missed just three times and is shooting 87.0 percent.
Villanova (33-5) faces Oklahoma (29-7) at 6:09 p.m. Saturday in a national semifinal game at NRG Stadium in Houston.
“We do spend a lot of time on it all year round,” coach Jay Wright said. “We spend a lot of time on technique shooting. We spend a lot of time on every possible situation in foul shooting, every day in practice.
“With people on the line, without people on the line, a three-shot foul, a two-shot foul. We even practice missing a foul shot in case we're down two and we have one shot with three seconds left.
“So it’s a big part of our program all year round.”