The 70,000 fans inside San Antonio’s Alamodome on Saturday night were anticipating what most national semifinal games turn out to be – a back-and-forth, heavyweight clash between two blue-blood college basketball programs. What they witnessed instead was an offensive performance that reached a historic level of proficiency, turning the opposing team into nothing more than a fly on a windshield along the way.
The Villanova Wildcats drained 18 three-point baskets en-route to a 95-79 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks, setting a new NCAA record for made threes in a Final Four game. A little less than four minutes before halftime, the Wildcats tied the existing record after nailing their 13th trey, and 61 seconds into the second half, they broke it with their 14th. The only thing standing in the way now of a second national championship in three years for Jay Wright and Villanova are the 3rd-seeded Michigan Wolverines, whom they will face on Monday night.
Villanova showcased their seemingly limitless shooting range and machine-like offense early and often, stunning the Jayhawks by converting 6 of their first 10 attempts from beyond the arc, all accompanied by an assist, to take a 22-4 lead before the game was seven minutes old. National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson scored 13 points in the first half while Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall added eight points apiece, with Spellman also contributing nine rebounds.
As the second half began, Kansas applied pressure onto the perimeter more aggressively to try and slow down the long-range Wildcat onslaught. As soon as they did, however, ‘Nova recognized the gaps in the paint and began to drive the lane. During one stretch, the Jayhawks were down by 15 points, scored on five straight possessions, only to then find themselves down by 17. That, in a nutshell, is how the night went for Kansas.
The Wildcats’ trio of seniors won their final home game of their careers Saturday afternoon at The Pavilion with a 79-63 victory over the 23rd-ranked Creighton Bluejays.
Although Villanova (14-3 Big East, 27-3 overall) continued to struggle with their outside shooting, converting just 4 of 19 attempts (21.1%) from beyond the arc, they were able to make up for it by out-rebounding Creighton (9-7, 22-7) 33-28 and regularly drawing fouls on drives to the basket resulting in 22 free throw attempts, 16 more than the Bluejays, making 17 of them (77.3%).
Redshirt-sophomore forward Eric Paschall, who transferred to the Main Line from Fordham after his freshman year, had a breakout game for the ‘Cats as he scored a team and career-high 19 points, adding 6 rebounds and 2 assists. With injured big man Darryl Reynolds missing his 5th straight game, Villanova could certainly use more performances similar to this one from Paschall moving forward. It is worth noting that head coach Jay Wright was quoted on Saturday saying Reynolds “should be ready for the start of the Big East Tournament” beginning on March 8th.
The Villanova Wildcats faced off with the Butler Bulldogs this past Wednesday night seeking their 4th-straight outright Big East regular season title. Back on January 4th, the Bulldogs handed ‘Nova their first loss of the season by a score of 66-58 at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The ‘Cats shot 37.3% from the field in that contest and knocked down just 6 of 26 (23.1%) from 3-point range.
History appeared to repeat itself Wednesday night as Villanova (13-3 Big East, 26-3 overall) fell to Butler (11-5, 22-6) at home, 74-66, snapping the Wildcats’ 48 game winning streak at the Pavilion. The loss is also the first in 4 years for seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds at their on-campus court. Once again, ‘Nova struggled from 3-point range, shooting just 6-for-24 (25%) from deep. In Villanova’s 3 losses this season, twice to Butler and once to Marquette on the road, they have shot a combined 18-for-84 (21.4%) from long range.
The ‘Cats appeared off their game for most of the night with uncharacteristic turnovers, key missed free throws, blown finishes and poor defensive rotations on multiple occasions. While head coach Chris Holtmann and the Bulldogs certainly deserve credit for developing and executing an effective game plan, the home team beat themselves for much of the game.
Despite missing senior forward Darryl Reynolds for the third straight game due to sore ribs, the Villanova Wildcats traveled to Newark, New Jersey on Saturday and ruthlessly dismantled the Seton Hall Pirates, 92-70, to clinch at least a share of the program’s fourth-straight Big East regular season title.
Sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson was nothing short of masterful in the victory, scoring 22 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting and dishing out 10 assists, recording his first career double-double. He also became the first player in the last 20 years to record 20 points and 10 assists without missing a shot according to ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo).
As a team, Villanova (13-2 Big East, 26-2 overall) shot a season-high 67 percent (33-for-49) from the field, including 57 percent (12-for-21) from 3-point territory. The lopsided loss for Seton Hall (6-8, 16-10) leaves them squarely on the bubble with the NCAA Tournament quickly approaching.
The Villanova Wildcats took a big step forward in their hunt for a 4th straight Big East regular season title by defeating the Xavier Muskeeters, 73-57, on Saturday afternoon at the Cintas Center in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Donte DiVincenzo had another breakout game for the visitors with 17 points, and Wooden Award-candidate Josh Hart finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
The Wildcats (11-2 Big East, 24-2 overall) got off to a slow start by settling for too many threes in their halfcourt offense, allowing Xavier (8-4, 18-7) to jump out to an early 7-3 lead. Villanova head coach Jay Wright called a quick timeout to right the ship and from that point on, the ‘Cats’ offense began to operate closer to its normal efficiency.
The turning point seemed to come when Xavier senior guard and leading scorer Trevon Bluiett aggravated a right ankle injury and had to miss several minutes while receiving treatment. Bluiett gave it a quick go shortly thereafter but would leave and not return in the second half.