By Teresa M. Walker
AP Sports Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Losing in the NCAA Tournament is downright painful. Several teams still in the hunt for the title are using the unpleasant memories of the past as good lessons that have helped them move into the Elite Eight.
The Villanova Wildcats know the misery well. They lost their second game each of the past two tournaments, while their seniors were around for an opening loss in 2013.
Rather than letting those memories haunt them, the Wildcats adjusted and reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.
“What you’re seeing is a team that’s learned a lot from those games and that is experience,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said Thursday night after a 92-69 rout of No. 3 seed Miami in the South Region semifinal.
“They’ve been there twice. They’ve lost. They don’t fear it. They don’t fear losing in the second round, they don’t fear losing in the Sweet 16. They just are driven to advance,” he said. “And I think having no fear is what we’re seeing.”
Other teams are making a similar play:
Oklahoma also is in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009 after early exits each of the past three seasons, while Kansas hadn’t gotten to a regional final since 2012.
Oregon hasn’t played past the opening weekend since 2013, and now the Ducks are a game away from their first Final Four since 1939.
“We went through those early exits,” Villanova junior guard Josh Hart said. “We went through that heartache, and it was tough. But we learned from it. … We’re just using that as momentum, using that experience to get us through these games.”
All four advanced Thursday night with pretty impressive performances, too.
NOVA SHOOTING: The Wildcats lost to North Carolina State in 2015 and Connecticut in 2014 in their second NCAA games. In 2013, it was an opening loss to North Carolina. Villanova came into this tournament having spent three weeks as the nation’s top-ranked team for the first time in program history. Now the Wildcats are showing just how good they might be, shooting better in each of their first three games.
Villanova never trailed against Miami, scoring the first eight points. The Hurricanes got within one at 31-30 before Villanova finished the game hitting 62.7 percent of its shots and a season-high 66.7 percent (10 of 15) beyond the arc. They even hit their first 15 free throws before finishing 18 of 19 at the line to earn their third regional final under Wright and seventh all-time.
“If they go 10 of 15 and 18 of 19, you know nobody’s going to beat them,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
CHALK IT UP JAYHAWK: As the top of the No. 1 seeds, Kansas was expected to reach Saturday night’s South Region final. The Jayhawks know only too well expectations and seedings mean little in this tournament after losing to Wichita State in their second game last year and to Stanford in 2014. Reaching the Sweet 16 proved no help in 2013 with a loss to Michigan.
Maryland stuck around long enough in the first half to give fans a few jitters. Kansas took a 36-34 halftime lead and opened the second half hitting its first six shots to seize the lead. The Jayhawks turned in what Self called a “superb” performance in the second half in pushing that lead to as much as 16 for a 79-63 win and first Elite Eight since 2012.
SOONER TIME: No. 2 seed Oklahoma romped over third-seeded Texas A&M 77-63 in the West Regional semifinal with five Sooners in double figures. They now are in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009 after losing in a regional semifinal a year ago with opening losses to North Dakota State in 2014 and San Diego State in 2013.
Having Buddy Hield helps. Oklahoma blew open a close game with a 19-4 run to close the first half, not letting the Aggies closer than 14 in the second half. Memories of that loss to Michigan State a year ago did, too. “Got asked a lot of questions about how we felt last year, so we just wanted to make sure we had a greater focus this game and make it to our ultimate goal,” Jordan Woodward said.
ORE-NOT GONE YET: So much has been made of Oregon’s No. 1 seed in the West, and the Ducks lost to Wisconsin each of the past two tournaments. They lost to Louisville in their last regional semifinal in 2013. Not even playing the defending national champions could shake Oregon this time around as the Ducks took a double-digit lead early in the second half and never flinched in downing Duke 82-68 for the first time in school history.
Oregon now is in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2007.