Villanova bombs away to blast its way to the title game

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Villanova 95, Kansas 79 – Box Score

The story coming out of Villanova’s Elite 8 victory over Texas Tech was how the Wildcats found a way to win despite being uncharacteristically cold from behind the arc. Saturday night’s Final Four matchup against Kansas went in an entirely different direction.

Two minutes into the game, the Wildcats went on a run where they scored on five straight possessions, including going 4-4 from the three-point line. In the blink of an eye, the Jayhawks found themselves down by double digits. It was enough to make your head spin even if you’re weren’t a former Jayhawk on pain meds from facial surgery.

 

But the onslaught from downtown by no means ended there. Before the first half was even over, Villanova had already tied the record for made threes in a Final Four game (13). They would go on to set the record at 18 (on 40 attempts), leading by as many as 22 points in the second half to easily advance to Monday night’s title game against Michigan.

The game was vintage Villanova, who has already set the records for most threes made in an NCAA tournament and for a season. They were so hot from downtown that they didn’t even need to shoot their first free throws until there were less than nine minutes remaining in the game.

It was a true egalitarian effort, as every Villanova starter made at least two threes in the first half. Two of those opening four threes came from big man Omari Spellman, who finished the game with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Kansas center Udoka Azubuike was simply not accustomed to having to guard his man that far away from the basket, and Spellman made him pay.

The Wildcats went with a true 5-out offense, and Kansas’ propensity for helping off their man to stop dribble penetration constantly provided Villanova with open looks. They certainly did not squander those opportunities. Time after time, Player of the Year Jalen Brunson (18 points, 6 assists) would get into the lane and either find a teammate behind the arc or someone making a savvy backcut to the rim. Kansas head coach Bill Self could be seen pleading with his guys to stay with their men no matter what, but it was to no avail.

Even when Kansas did everything perfectly, things still seemed to go Villanova’s way. Early in the second half, the Jayhawks blocked a Villanova drive and the Wildcats were scrambling to get a shot off before the shot clock expired. Eric Paschall pulled up from about 28 feet, canning the triple and basically extinguishing any hope for Kansas that the second half would go differently.

Paschall basically couldn’t miss on the night, shooting 10-11 from the field and 4-5 from three for a game-high 24 points. It was a fitting display for a guy who has really put the work in to improve his shot. Paschall shot just 31.5% from three at Fordham, 27.9% last year with the Wildcats, and started this season an abysmal 1-25 from downtown. He’s now up to a a very respectable 35.7% on the season and torched a #1 seed on college baskeball’s biggest stage.

Villanova will enter the title game as a 7-point favorite over Michigan. In the last week alone, the Wildcats have shown both how dangerous they can be at their peak and how resilient they can be otherwise. 40 minutes left will decide if they can grab their second national championship in the past three seasons.

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