Maybe this will soothe the sting for Kansas.
The Jayhawks were never part of their national semifinal loss to Villanova. The Wildcats were phenomenal, setting three-point shooting records and getting contributions from everyone.
In Monday’s national championship game, Villanova wasn’t as good from deep. And Jalen Brunson, who is cleaning up national player of the year honors, finished with a pedestrian line of nine points and two assists, and spent the critical moments of the second half on the bench.
An off-night in multiple areas should bode well for an opponent like Michigan, right?
It did, for about 15 minutes. The rest of the game and the college basketball season belonged to Villanova, which finished off one of the most dominant Final Four runs with a 79-62 triumph at the Alamodome.
It didn’t matter how or who the Wildcats played, they steamrolled every opponent. By early in the second half Monday, there was no mystery whose box of championship hats and T-shirts would be opened.
“When you’re in the game it doesn’t seem that way at all,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said.
Even against the Jayhawks, who were victim of a Final Four record 18 three-pointers.
“You have so much respect for Kansas, you feel like (Devonte) Graham, (Malik) Newman could start drilling threes and it could be a two- or three-point game,” Wright said. “I don’t think our kids will think we dominated the tournament. They’ll just think we played Villanova basketball and got better the next night.”
Playing Villanova basketball pushed the Wildcats into a small circle of great champions. They became the fourth program to win all six NCAA games by double digits. The others: Mateen Cleaves-led Michigan State in 2000, Duke and Shane Battier in 2001 and Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina in 2009.
Add Villanova, Brunson and “Big Ragu” to the list.
The funny nickname belongs to Donte DiVincenzo, who defied the Villanova trend of wealth-spreading by scoring 31 points — the most in a title-game victory since Kansas’ Danny Manning in 1988, and the most ever by a non-starter.
Broadcaster Gus Johnson gave DiVincenzo his nickname and it’s stuck like spaghetti sauce.
“I’m assuming it’s because I’m Italian and I have red hair,” DiVincenzo said earlier in the tournament.
The Wildcats had been a sum-is-greater-than-the-parts team most of the season, but DiVincenzo changed that Monday. Michigan jumped to an early seven-point lead behind Moe Wagner. DiVincenzo answered with 18 points in the final 12 minutes of the half.
Villanova had taken control and extended the margin to 18 points before the Wolverines sliced it to 12. Again it was DiVincenzo with back-to-back threes, winking at the broadcast table after each, to re-open the blowout.
The 6-5 guard also blocked two shots, dished off three assists and winked at broadcasters after he made his two second-half bombs. If the redshirt sophomore wasn’t on the NBA Draft radar before Monday …
“Even if we had played our best it would have been difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
The second-half outburst occurred with Brunson on the bench.
Villanova is so deep and talented, a product of solid coaching, recruiting and redshirting brought the program this moment. Six players, including three starters and DiVincenzo, have spent a redshirt year for the Wildcats, unheard of at a major program.
But it fed the hunger of players like DiVincenzo, who watched teammate Kris Jenkins bury the buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat North Carolina for the 2016 title, as a redshirt.
“You just want to get out there and play as hard as you possibly can,” DiVincenzo said. “When you get that chance you don’t want to back away from that.”
Villanova played with that resolve throughout the tournament on the way to its third national championship. The challenges seemed greater at the East Region in Boston the previous week, when it took down Big 12 opponents West Virginia and Texas Tech.
Trailing the Mountaineers by six with 11 minutes remaining, Villanova put on a scoring blitz to win by 12. The Red Raiders held the Wildcats to their lowest total in the postseason, 71 points, and also lost by a dozen.
Attack them with pressure, individual stars, or three-point shooting, nothing worked against the team that put together one of the greatest tournament runs in the game’s history, not to mention the best season in school history with a 36-4 record.
Wright had a notion in Boston.
“I knew we were good but you don’t think you can win this,” he said. “After the West Virginia game, I knew we had a shot. You get into the mind-set, don’t screw this up. You’ve got a good team here, really good kids. You’ve got a shot.”