BOSTON – One of Villanova basketball's mottos explains the freedom of its players to take shots: "Shoot 'em up, sleep in the streets."
Loosely translated, it means a player should not hesitate to take an open shot no matter how poorly he has been shooting. If he is afraid to shoot, coach Jay Wright has said, "They're not going to let you in the house, you've got to sleep in the streets."
While Wright isn't 100 percent sure of the source of the motto, he does give his team the liberty to fire away, which it has done at a record clip this season. When the Wildcats take the floor Sunday for their game against Texas Tech with a berth in the Final Four on the line, they can set an NCAA Division I single-season record for most three-point baskets in a season if they make 11.
The Cats (33-4), seeded No. 1 in the East Region, have 432 threes on the season, 10 short of the record of 442 set by Virginia Military Institute in 2005-06. They have 44 threes in the tournament, a record for three games. For the season, their average output of 11.7 per game is third in Division I, and their 40.5 percent shooting is 10th.
"I think it starts with the confidence we have in each other, the confidence Coach has in us," junior guard Jalen Brunson said Saturday, after the Wildcats completed a short practice at TD Garden. "We put a lot of time and hard work in the summer and the fall, even during the winter."
Wright said the emphasis on the three-point shot has been "gradual over time."
"It's recruiting players that are good shooters when we get them and then working on it," he said. "We work on it daily. Even this deep into the season, we'll do what we call technique-shooting workouts. So, it's gradually progressed where it's become a big part of recruiting, a big part of our scheme, and a big part of our development program."
Instead of a lineup of four perimeter shooters and one big man inside, Wright has carried the concept even further this season with five players on the court who can hit the three. Freshman center Omari Spellman led 'Nova in its 90-78 win Friday night over West Virginia with four threes and also contributed three blocked shots.
The coach "always tells us, 'Catch and shoot,' and he gets on us if we don't catch and shoot," Spellman said. "It doesn't excuse terrible shots, but it definitely gives us confidence to shoot the ball when we feel that we're open. He would always tell me, 'If you're open, stick it.' Having that confidence from your coach allows you to go out and perform."
Texas Tech (27-9), the No. 3 seed that advanced with a 78-65 win over Purdue, is a strong defensive team at the arc, allowing an average of 6.8 threes per game and a 32.8 percentage. Second-year coach Chris Beard said Saturday that Wright "changed basketball" to develop a 4-man, or power forward, who is able to shoot the three.
"This guy, he transformed basketball, the way they play," Beard said. "We're all kind of doing the same thing."
Wright said he "stumbled onto something" during the 2005 NCAA tournament, when the Wildcats were about to play North Carolina in the Sweet 16 without forward Curtis Sumpter, who had torn his ACL. The coach decided to start 6-foot freshman guard Kyle Lowry in Sumpter's place.
"Kyle, I think, had as many rebounds as [Carolina's Scott] May, and we came out of that game saying, 'Whoa, man, we might have found something," Wright said of Lowry, now an NBA all-star. "Curtis tore his ACL the next year, and it was like, 'No brainer, we're going with it.' It was pure necessity, and so much fun to coach. We really didn't have any other choice."