There was not enough star power in the world to save the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks Saturday night in Louisville. The Villanova Wildcats prevailed, 64-59, in the South Regional final, punching their ticket to the Final Four in Houston next week after years of disappointing early tournament exits.
Nova is now headed to their first Final Four since 2009, the last season up until 2016 that they had even reached the Sweet 16 despite being highly-seeded year in and year out. Coach Jay Wright's Wildcats showed a defensive resiliency in holding the nation's top team to under 60 points, showing off a brand of balanced basketball unlike anything else we've seen from them this season.
After Kansas (33-5) fought their way back into the game and took a five-point lead with just under eleven minutes remaining, the Wildcats fought back into the game with a 10-0 run, taking a 50-45 advantage three minutes later. A couple key steals by Mikal Bridges in the final minute sealed the win for Villanova, with Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Jenkins, and Jalen Brunson taking care of business from the free throw line.
How It Went Down
It was clear from the very start that this game would not be the offensive showcase expected of it. Scoring was at a premium in the opening minutes, and it was only at the halfway point of the first half when Nova developed the first significant lead.
With the Jayhawks up 16-12 at the 10:43 mark, a Josh Hart layup sparked a 13-0 run for the Wildcats, as Brunson, Arcidiacono, Bridges, Hart again, and Daniel Ochefu chipped in buckets to grab a 25-16 lead for Villanova as 4:11 remained on the clock for the first half.
Kansas grabbed a few buckets back, but the Wildcats held a 32-25 when the halftime buzzer sounded. And when play returned, the tides would turn drastically.
Bill Self's Jayhawks began the second half on a 15-4 run. Devonte Graham rained down shots from deep while Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. piloted the attack to bring Kansas back into form; the fourth of Graham's five made threes on the night made it 40-36 with just under 13 minutes to go.
A Selden Jr. and-one made it 45-40 to the Jayhawks, but Nova spent the next three minutes on another big run, scoring ten unanswered points to take their own five-point lead with eight minutes left to play.
Back-and-forth it went as the seconds ticked down on the scoreboard, Villanova maintaining the slimmest of margins with Kansas knocking on the door each possession. Selden Jr. hit another clutch jumper at the 2:17 mark to cut the lead to 56-54, but the Wildcats' defense tightened up and a key steal by Bridges with just over half a minute remaining transitioned play into free throw mode for Nova and quickfire mode for Kansas.
Arcidiacono made his pair of free throws, but Mason III cut the lead to a single point at 58-57 on the next possession with a three-ball. Mason III once again negated a pair of Arcidiacono shots from the foul line with a drive and score on the next possession, but the resistance ended there for the Jayhawks.
Kris Jenkins sunk another two charity buckets on the next series, and Kansas' hopes were tarnished on the next possession, Bridges dispossessing Mason III with six seconds to go and then having the awareness to call a timeout from the floor.
The final free throws by Jalen Brunson officially iced the game and Josh Hart stole the ball once again as the buzzer sounded, Villanova rising over Kansas to win the region and advance to the Final Four, where they'll face another two seed in the Buddy Hield-led Oklahoma Sooners.
Jenkins, Hart, and Arcidiacono led Nova with thirteen points apiece on the night, while big Daniel Ochefu added 10 and eight boards for the 'Cats. Bridges' five steals were huge down the stretch as well.
Meanwhile, for Kansas, Davonte Graham led with 17 points on 6-13 shooting (5-9 from beyond the arc) but fouled out in the final minutes. Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III each had sixteen points while Landen Lucas recorded 12 rebounds in the loss.
The Final Box
|Villanova Wildcats (33-5)||REB||AST||STL||BLK||PTS|
|F Daniel Ochefu||8||2||1||1||10|
|F Kris Jenkins||4||3||1||0||13|
|G Josh Hart||4||0||2||0||13|
|G Ryan Arcidiacono||3||1||1||0||13|
|G Jalen Brunson||1||0||0||0||7|
|F Darryl Reynolds||4||0||1||1||2|
|G Phil Booth||0||0||0||0||0|
|G Mikal Bridges||3||1||5||0||6|
|Kansas Jayhawks (33-5)||REB||AST||STL||BLK||PTS|
|F Landen Lucas||12||2||0||0||6|
|F Perry Ellis||5||1||1||0||4|
|G Frank Mason III||3||4||1||1||16|
|G Wayne Selden Jr.||2||3||1||1||16|
|G Davonte Graham||7||0||1||0||17|
|F Carlton Bragg Jr.||0||1||0||0||0|
|G Jamari Traylor||0||0||1||0||0|
|G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk||0||0||0||0||0|