Poor shooting is the easily identifiable culprit in Kansas’ season ending 64-59 loss to Villanova in the South Region final that denied the Jayhawks a trip to the Final Four.
But a long stretch in the first half when Kansas could hardly get off a shot is just as responsible. Turnovers were the Jayhawks’ undoing in the first half, and a couple of key mistakes in the final moments sealed the deal.
Over a stretch of nearly six minutes, Kansas committed eight turnovers, and an early lead became the game’s biggest deficit.
“That’s about the worst we played in a long time,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
The Jayhawks played uphill most the way after that. They did take a second-half lead.
But a tone was set. Villanova could fluster Kansas into mistakes, and none was bigger than the turnover committed by Frank Mason with 5 seconds remaining and KU trailing by three.
Mason was attempting to get a handoff to Svi Mykhailuk for a potential game-tying three, but Mikal Bridges stepped in for the steal — the fifth of the game for the reserve guard who was seeing extended action because of foul trouble to Kris Jenkins.
The Jayhawks’ final chance had ended.
But the trouble had started earlier.
Wayne Selden scored inside to give Kansas a 16-12 lead with 10:41 left in the first half. Josh Hart’s layup cut it to two.
Here’s where the turnover problems swallowed the Jayhawks. A misplay by Selden got it started, but over the next six minutes, Carlton Bragg, Mason, Perry Ellis kicked in with miscues. In all, Kansas committed eight errors during the stretch as Villanova increased its lead to 25-16.
“We wanted to make it ugly,” Wildcats guard Ryan Arcidacono said.
“We knew we weren’t shooting the ball well. But the backbone of our team is just defend and rebound and play hard. I think we did that.”
The Villanova lead was seven at the break.
Kansas dug its way out, and when Devonte’ Graham banked in a three-pointer with 12:54 to play, the Jayhawks took a 40-36 lead.
When many of KU’s opponents throughout the season, and especially in their 17-game winning streak, felt this surge they wilted. Not the Villanova Wildcats, who battled back, and once they regained the lead never lost it.
“We weren’t very strong with the ball,” Self said. “They blew up two or three dribble handoffs that led to run outs for them. We really got out of character there for a stretch.
“We had the lead. The next thing you know we’re down nine.”
Villanova had similarly bothered Miami in its Sweet 16 encounter, with defense leading to offense. Kansas, with Mason and Graham, figured to be better structured to handle the Wildcats’ changing defenses.
“They played man and zone, and we didn’t attack their zone well,” Self said. “We got some open looks but didn’t make them pay. They got confident in the way they defended us.”
Statistically, the game was even, with a lean toward Kansas. The Jayhawks shot 46 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from three. Villanova, which had been on fire throughout the NCAA Tournament, was at 40.4 percent and 22.2 percent from behind the arc.
Kansas outrebounded Villanova 32-28.
But the Wildcats went 18 of 19 from the free-throw line, including all eight in the final 33 seconds.
And Villanova committed nine turnovers to Kansas’ 16, outscoring the Jayhawks 13-6 in points off turnovers.
Carelessness was a Kansas killer and contributed to an earlier than-expected departure for the tournament’s overall top-seeded team.