Jalen Brunson (1)
Jalen Brunson (1)
Much was made of Villanova’s balanced, prolific scoring as the Wildcats mowed down one opponent after another in one of the most dominant runs through an NCAA Tournament in years.
Lurking in the shadows was a highly underrated defense, one that turned around Monday night’s national championship game with Michigan.
Allowing the Wolverines to make just 43.6 percent of their field-goal attempts and just 3 of 23 tries from 3-point range, the top-seeded Wildcats notched their second title in three years with a 79-62 verdict at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
In becoming the first team since North Carolina nine years ago to win every tournament game by double figures, Villanova (36-4) got a game-high 31 points from sixth man Donte DiVincenzo and 19 from Mikal Bridges.
Yet even DiVincenzo, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player who steamrolled Michigan with a run of 10 straight points late in the first half and another burst of nine straight points in the second half, pointed to his defense as the most satisfying factor.
“The blocked shots, definitely,” he said when asked if scoring 31 points or rejecting a pair of shots pleased him more. “I pride myself on defense and bringing energy to this team.”
The Wildcats’ versatility and ability to play positionless basketball on offense also translates to the defensive end. Almost everyone in the Villanova rotation can guard multiple positions, allowing the team to switch screens if needed, and most of the player are quick enough to deny opponents their favorite spots.
Michigan (33-8) was able to execute its offense well enough for the first 10 minutes, leading on Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to grab a 21-16 lead just over 12 minutes into the game. However, when Villanova started cutting off driving lanes and forcing the Wolverines to settle for jumpers, the game changed.
“They obviously played the drive better, and I turned it over a couple of times,” Wagner said. “You have to give them credit. They’re a really good team defensively and when they play like that, they’re tough to beat.”
DiVincenzo’s outburst made beating Villanova just about impossible. The Big East Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year scored 10 of his 18 first-half points in a span of just 2:55, keying a 23-7 spurt that turned a seven-point deficit into a 37-28 halftime lead.
Canning 3-pointers, scoring off the dribble and even drilling one long jumper over two defenders, DiVincenzo put Michigan in a hole it wasn’t about to escape.
“We needed to play better,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said, “but even if we had played at our best, it would have been very difficult to win with what DiVincenzo (was doing).”
Wagner scored to start the second half, but the Wildcats weren’t about to let suspense enter the equation. Continuing to string stops together while regaining rhythm offensively, they hit Michigan with a 14-3 run that Bridges capped with a 3-pointer for a 51-33 lead with 14:36 left.
The Wolverines kept working but couldn’t get closer than 12 for the game’s remainder. DiVincenzo peeled off nine straight points in a 2:39 stretch, finishing it with a 3-pointer with 7:57 on the clock to make it 62-44.
Fittingly, it was DiVincenzo who dribbled out the final 10 seconds, flinging the ball toward the ceiling of the cavernous football stadium as his teammates mobbed him.
“We grind every single day in practice,” he said. “To experience this is a dream come true.”
Abdur-Rahkman paced Michigan with 23 points and Wagner contributed 16, but their best efforts just weren’t enough to hold off Villanova.
“I can’t put this into words,” Brunson said. “This is spectacular.”
NOTES: Villanova became the first team since North Carolina in 2015 to lead the country in scoring and win the national title. … The 2009 Tar Heels were the last team to win every tourney game by double digits. … DiVincenzo was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Eric Paschall along with Michigan’s Wagner. … The Wildcats’ win follows the Eagles’ Super Bowl triumph, making Philadelphia the first city ever to win the Super Bowl championship and the NCAA championship in the same year, according to TBS.
SAN ANTONIO – Eric Paschall sat out as a sophomore transfer on the 2016 Villanova team that won the school’s first national title in 31 years.
Two years later, he and the Wildcats are back, hunting another NCAA championship with a squad of sharpshooters that set a Final Four record Saturday night against helpless Kansas.
Paschall canned four of Villanova’s 18 3-pointers and scored a game-high 24 points, leading six players in double figures as the Wildcats routed the Jayhawks 95-79 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Villanova (35-4) will take on Michigan, a 69-57 winner over Loyola-Chicago in the first semifinal Saturday, in the championship game Monday night. The Wildcats will be solid favorites after hitting 55.4 percent from the field and leading by double figures for the final 35:58 against a fellow top seed.
Part of the reason is Paschall, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound redshirt junior who is one of six players on the team to average in double figures. All six can play position-less basketball, able to score from anywhere on the floor and move the ball around until someone gets a clean look.
“It just feels good,” Paschall said. “My teammates trusted me, filled me with that confidence.”
Overconfidence would have been Villanova’s only problem on this night, given how well it shot the ball from the arc. It canned six 3-pointers in the game’s first 6:57, establishing a 22-4 lead when Collin Gillespie came off the bench to sink a three. One of the two 2-pointers in that span was a highlight-reel dunk by Paschall of a missed three from Omari Spellman.
By halftime, when the Wildcats led 47-32, they had tied the single-game record for a Final Four with 13 threes. A desperation heave from Paschall to beat the shot clock 61 seconds into the second half found the net to give Villanova the record and a 50-34 lead.
Six different Wildcats converted multiple 3-pointers, and they also shredded Kansas’ defense when they overcommitted on the perimeter. They finished the game at 55.4 percent from the field, going 18-of-25 on 2-point attempts.
“Kansas did a good job of getting out on our shooters,” claimed Villanova coach Jay Wright, “and (Paschall) did a good job making plays one-on-one.”
Spellman added 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Jalen Brunson contributed 18 points and six assists. Donte DiVincenzo scored 15 points off the bench. Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges each tallied 10.
Devonte’ Graham bagged 23 points to lead the Jayhawks (31-8). Malik Newman, who scored all 13 overtime points in a Midwest Region championship win over Duke that got Kansas to San Antonio, added 21. Sviatoslav Mykhailuk scored 10 points.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t have the perfect roster to win all those games, win the league … it seemed to catch up to us a little today but I’m not going to think of it as sour.”
Newman’s jumper with 9:20 left pulled the Jayhawks within 71-57, but the Wildcats methodically restored the lead to 20. DiVincenzo’s 3-pointer with 3:57 remaining made it an 83-63 game, and all that was left to do from there was settle the final margin.
Scoring could be a bit tougher for Villanova against Michigan, which has held three of its NCAA Tournament opponents under 60 points with discipline, length and intelligent challenges on jump-shooters.
“They’re really long defensively, really disciplined,” Wright said of the Wolverines. “They present matchup nightmares. But when you get to this point, you’re going to play a great team.”
–Field Level Media
SAN ANTONIO – The NCAA Tournament has been as wild as ever, but there is some stability in San Antonio, as No. 1 seeds Villanova and Kansas square off Saturday in an intriguing Final Four matchup. The teams each have one of the five Wooden Award finalists at point guard, with Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham leading their respective teams into this star-studded clash.Brunson has guided the Wildcats into the Final Four for the second time in three seasons despite scoring 16 points or fewer in three of the team’s first four games in this event and not racking up more than four assists in any NCAA Tournament contest. “The outside thinks about this one-on-one matchup between me and Devonte’,” Brunson told reporters. “I just really focus on Villanova versus Kansas.” Graham, a senior whose team had lost in the Elite Eight each of the previous two years, has yet to shoot above 40 percent in any of the four tournament games, although fortunately Malik Newman has stepped up to shoulder the scoring load. Newman scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in overtime against Duke in the Elite Eight, finishing with a career-high 32 to help Kansas reach the Final Four for the second time since winning the 2008 title.
TV: 8:49 p.m. ET, TBS
ABOUT VILLANOVA (34-4): The Wildcats have won their four tournament games by 26, 23, 12 and 12 points, but the Elite Eight win over Texas Tech followed a different formula than the first three games. Villanova shot only 33.3 percent against the Red Raiders and finished with 71 points – well below the team’s country-leading average of 86.6 points – and they also shot just 4-of-24 from behind the 3-point line – highly uncharacteristic for a team that shoots 40 percent from long range overall. Mikal Bridges missed all five of his 3-point attempts, ending his streak of 11 straight games with at least three 3s, including 10 contests in which he made at least 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
ABOUT KANSAS (31-7): The Jayhawks have five double-digit scorers on the season – including Graham, who is part of a four-guard attack, and big man Udoka Azubuike, who is rounding into form after missing the Big 12 Tournament with a knee injury. Newman has made 13 3-pointers in the last three games, averaging nearly 26 points per game in that stretch, and Lagerald Vick has been consistent with either 13 or 14 points in all four games of the tournament. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk notched 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against Duke, but the Jayhawks’ fate likely will come down to Graham, who had a game-high 17 points two years ago when Kansas was upended by Villanova in the Elite Eight.
1. Villanova is one win away from tying the school record of 35 set by the 2016 national championship team.
2. Azubuike is shooting 77.2 percent from the field this season – by far the best in the nation.
3. The winner of this game will return to the court for Monday’s championship game against either Michigan or Loyola-Chicago.
Third-seeded Michigan hopes its historic season culminates in a title game appearance as it faces No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago in the national semifinal on Saturday in San Antonio. The Wolverines, who have won 13 consecutive games – including 10 straight away from home – held off ninth-seeded Florida State 58-54 in the Elite 8 to set a new program record for wins in a season with 32 and hope to reach the national championship game for the second time since 2013.