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Villanova beats Kansas, will face Michigan in NCAA title game

March 31, 2018

SAN ANTONIO — 21 minutes.

That is all the time that Villanova needed to put together the single-greatest three-point shooting performance in Final Four history.

The Wildcats made 13 first half threes, tying a Final Four record that was set all the way back in 1987, the first year that three-pointers were in the college game, when UNLV pulled it off against Indiana. They broke the record on the second possession of the second half. Kansas had just scored, cutting Villanova’s lead to 13 points, and on the ensuing possession Udoka Azubuike just about put a hole in the backboard blocking a shot. The loose ball squirted out to Eric Paschall, who, with the shot clock winding down, fired up a 27-foot three with a hand in his face.

Dagger.

It might have been the earliest dagger in the history of college basketball, but it was a dagger nonetheless.

Because anyone watching at home or in San Antonio’s Alamodome could see it. Kansas looked deflated, punched in the gut. They did everything that you’re supposed to do against what is the best offense that we’ve seen in the KenPom era.

And it did. Not. Matter.

Kansas never quit, but from the moment that shot went in, the result — a 95-79 win for Villanova — felt inevitable. Villanova eventually slowed down, making only five second half threes to finish 18-for-40 from beyond the arc on the night, but the Jayhawks never cut the lead to single digits after Villanova’s 22-4 run to open the game.

“Well,” Jay Wright said after the game. “That was just one of those nights.”

That it was.

“I feel bad for Kansas,” he continued. “They’re a great team. We just made every shot, and sometimes that happens.”

That’s what this Villanova offense does. They are demoralizing. Everyone in their rotation, everyone that played at least ten minutes on Saturday night, shoots better than 38.5 percent from three on the season with the exception of Eric Paschall. But he’s been on fire since starting the season in a 1-for-25 slump, shooting better than 44 percent from beyond the arc in that span. They all have the ultimate green light as shooters, they never stop shooting those threes and every time they see a couple of them go down, everyone on the roster seems to catch fire.

“It’s contagious,” Donte DiVincenzo said.

And, perhaps most importantly, they just do not care about who gets the shine.

None of them do.

The running joke in the media room at this year’s Final Four is just how boring and how robotic Villanova is. To a man, they answer every question they are asked with at least one of the following talking points: That’s Villanova basketball, we want to defend and play hard first, we are brothers, we all get along so well, there’s a culture, we have an attitude.

At the end of the open locker room session, DiVincenzo was asked why he didn’t stay on brand during one interview. Laughing, he answered, “I didn’t say attitude? Oh man.”

And while their answers get more and more predictable as the tournament goes on, the fact of the matter is that what they are saying is probably true. They do play “Villanova basketball”. They do make an effort to play defense and rebound first and foremost. There is a culture.

And they are brothers.

If you are a Michigan fan — or if you are Luke Yaklich, Michigan’s defensive coordinator that is going to be tasked with trying to find a way to slow this buzzsaw down — the most terrifying part of what Villanova did on Saturday night was who did it. It wasn’t Jalen Brunson, the National Player of the Year who finished with 18 points and seven assists on 7-for-14 shooting or Mikal Bridges, Villanova’s resident lottery pick, who had just ten points on 4-for-8 shooting. Both of them did much of their damage after the game was already in hand. It wasn’t Donte DiVincenzo, who might be the second-best NBA prospect on the roster, either.

It was Paschall, who finished with 24 points, 16 in the second half, on 10-for-11 shooting from the floor, banging home 4-of-5 threes. It was Omari Spellman, Villanova’s starting center that went for 15 points, 12 boards and three blocks while making three threes of his own.

Think about that for a second.

Villanova blew out a No. 1-seed, the team that beat one of the tournament favorites in Duke just six days ago, by 20 points and set a record for the most threes every hit in the Final Four on a night where the National Player of the Year and the best NBA prospect at the Final Four both had a quiet, by their standards, night.

That is what makes them the best offense that we’ve seen in the last 16 seasons. That is what makes them so dangerous. They have five guys on the floor at all times that can win them a game — Brunson, Bridges and DiVincenzo have done as much in this tournament alone — and their starting bigs can do it by making threes.

You can’t guard that.

You just have to hope that you play good enough defense to make them miss.

“We shoot ’em up and we sleep in the streets,” Wright said. “Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. This is one of those nights where everything went in.”

They quite literally shot the lights out.

Midway through the second half, the ribbon scoreboard that hangs at the front of the second deck went out, darkening the upper decks and making the stadium, which is just 25 years old, feel significantly older than it is.

But it wasn’t all bad.

Without the ribbon board on, Kansas couldn’t see what the score was.

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