Kansas’ dreams of winning the 2018 NCAA basketball title on Saturday night were crushed by a familiar foe, Villanova.
Coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats (35-4), who knocked KU (31-8) from the NCAA Tournament in the Elite Eight during the sophomore season of Devonté Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, once again ended the Jayhawks’ season, this time, 95-79, in a Final Four semifinal at the Alamodome.
It was all about three-pointers — the Wildcats fired them up early and often — as Nova’s bombers, who hit 13 threes the first half in 26 tries, rolled to a 22-4 lead after seven minutes and carried a 47-32 lead into halftime.
Led by Eric Paschall (24 points, four threes), Jalen Brunson (18 points, three threes), Omari Spellman (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Donte DiVincenzo (15 points, eight rebounds, three threes) Villanova finished with 18 threes in 40 tries, most three-point makes by a team in a Final Four game. The Wildcats actually tied that record in the first half alone, the old record 13 by UNLV against Indiana in 1987.
Nova’s 18 threes tied for the most against KU in history, counting all games, not just NCAA games. Iowa State (2017) and Nebraska (2002) also hit 18 versus KU. Most threes against KU this season had been 14 by West Virginia and Arizona State. Nova was one off the most three point attempts versus KU in history, Iowa State taking 41 in 2013.
““That’s as good a team we’ve played against that I can remember,” KU coach Bill Self said after the Jayhawks’ worst defeat in a tourney game in the 15-year Self era. KU lost to Oregon by 14 points in last year’s Elite Eight at the Sprint Center. It also was the most points allowed by a Self team in an NCAA game. Michigan scored 87 in an 87-85 win over the Jayhawks in the 2013 tourney in Arlington, Texas.
“Credit to them, a superior team. And they were superior. They handled us today. They’d be hard for anybody to deal with if they shoot the ball like that,” Self added.
The early 22-4 hole definitely was tough to come back from.
“Today was a perfect storm early,” Self said. “Unfortunately for us we were on the wrong end of it. After we got punched in the face a few times we never really recovered to put any game pressure on them.”
KU, which was led by Graham’s 23 points and Malik Newman’s 21 points (Mykhailiuk had 10), went 2 of 6 from three the entire first half and 7 of 21 for the game. The two teams combined for the most three-point makes in any single Final Four contest (previously 22, Arkansas and north Carolina in 1995),
In all, seven Wildcats hit threes in the first half alone. Brunson scored 13 points, while Paschall and Spellman had eight points and Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges six apiece in the half.
Graham had 10 points, while Newman and Silvio De Sousa (7 points, 7 boards) scored seven apiece in the half. Spellman had nine boards the first half.
“It’s tough,” KU’s Newman said, “especially when most of the points come from the three-point line. You feel you don’t give yourself a chance to win. Put yourself in a deep hole, it’s hard to climb out of. It’s a tough situation to put yourself in.
“We were stagnant offensively. We didn’t move the ball. Bodies were not moving. When you play a good defensive team like Villanova, you have to move and get the ball moving. We did a poor job on offense. They did a good job on defense not having to rotate," Newman added.
Graham, who received a warm greeting from Self as he excited the game late, also credited Nova.
“They did a great job knocking down shots obviously,” Graham said. “Making the extra pass. Spellman picking and popping was hard to guard for us. You’ve got to give them credit for what they did.”
Of his late-game embrace with Self, Graham said: “I just knew it was my last time coming off the court in a Kansas uniform. I got emotional, but it’s been a great journey. The last four years have been a blessing. I just got real emotional.”
Self, Graham, said, told the Jayhawks to “keep our heads up. We had an unbelievable season, not the way you want it to end, but even if we lost by one point it would still hurt.”
Villanova came out with an abundance of energy to say the least.
The Wildcats, who allowed the first two points of the game as Udoka Azubuike (8 points, 5 boards) scored inside to the delight of his mom, Florence, who traveled all the way from Nigeria to see her son play for the first time, then went on an 11-0 surge to lead, 11-2, at 16:41. The Wildcats stretched it to 16-4 at 14:21 and 22-4 at 13:03.
At that point, Villanova, with its 18-point lead, had hit 8 of 12 shots and was 6 of 10 from three. Slow-starting KU was 2 of 6 from the field and had yet to take a three at that point.
Down 22-4, KU used a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 22-11 at 10:25. De Sousa scored five points and Newman two in the run.
However, it was back up to 34-17 at 7:58 with Nova cashing 10 threes in 18 tries at that point. KU finally hit its first three, in its first attempt, at 7:17 to make it 34-20. KU cut the gap to 34-22, at 5:52, however the Wildcats kept scoring and carried that 15-point lead into intermission.
KU trailed by as many as 22 in the final half (67-45 at 12:30) and by as few points as 13 (71-58 at 9:18.)
The two teams will meet again in the near future. KU will play host to Villanova on Dec. 15 at Allen Fieldhouse in the first game of a two-game, two-year series. The Jayhawks will travel to Philadelphia to meet the Wildcats on Dec. 21, 2019 at Wells Fargo Center.
Faces in the crowd: Some of the Jayhawks in town for the Final Four: Former KU players Eric Chenowith, Sherron Collins, Lester Earl, Jerod Haase, Marlon London, Danny Manning, Aaron Miles, Conner Teahan, Scot Pollard, Ryan Robertson, Tyler Self and Steve Woodberry. Former assistant coaches Joe Dooley and Steve Robinson attended as well as former KU head coach Larry Brown who has been with the KU coaching staff for the Final Four. Former KU coach Roy Williams of North Carolina was said to be spending Easter with family and left town after attending meetings during Final Four week in San Antonio. … Bill Self’s dad, Bill, Sr., who has had some health problems attended and took part in a nice dinner with family Friday night on the River Walk, he said. … Former KU forward Billy Preston, who was with the team before leaving for Bosnia where he played in just a couple games before returning to the U.S., attended and sat with his mom, Nicole. “Kansas and Michigan of course,” he said of his prediction for the final. “I’m proud of these guys. They worked hard to get here,” he added of the Jayhawks.