SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Donte DiVincenzo jogged back on defense, turned to face the onrushing Wolverines …
And smacked himself on the bottom. Hard.
This was his shining moment. Oh, yeah, baby. Yeah.
The Big Ragu, bench player extraordinaire, had just hit his third three-pointer of the first half, scored his 14th point and extended Villanova’s lead to four with 4 minutes, 49 seconds to play in the first half.
“I just wanted us to get a defensive stop,” DiVincenzo said. “Michigan wasn’t going away.”
That they led at all seemed miraculous, and they would not have, if not for DiVincenzo. And he wasn’t done. Not by a long shot. A few long shots, in fact.
He drove past his defender for a lefthanded layup on the next possession. About a minute later, he slipped to the basket from the top of the key, and Jalen Brunson found him for a dunk. A minute after that, having drawn a double-team from Michigan center Moe Wagner, he fired a no-look pass to Omari Spellman. He missed a layup, stumbled out of bounds … then raced back and pinned Zavier Simpson’s layup, which was left wedged between the rim and the glass; the first of two highlight blocks.
The Wildcats led, 37-28, at halftime.
DiVincenzo had 18 points.
Michigan was stunned. The game was Villanova’s.
The Wildcats won, 79-62.
DiVincenzo finished with a career-high 31, the most by a non-starter in a championship game, a feat that earned him Most Outstanding Player. As the confetti fell inside the Alamadome, his teammates mobbed him. Suddenly, everyone wanted to smack his behind.
He’d kept the Wildcats close in what felt early like a Michigan rout. The Wolverines led by as many as seven points as deep as 9 minutes into the game. It would have been worse if not for Dante’s infernal heat. He is a testament to Villanova’s characteristic depth and unwavering resilience.
NBA types were surely watching.
DiVincenzo is Villanova’s sixth man, a short-cropped ginger pogo stick. On a team known for its stoic execution — for the steel-handed discipline to Jay Wright’s close-to-the-vest system — DiVincenzo is a highly emotional, high-octane wild card.
Which, at times, can be a good thing.
Like when the consensus Player of the Year misses five of six shots after the first minute of play, as Brunson did in the first half.
Or when the lottery pick disappears, as Mikal Bridges did in the first half.
Both played better — stronger — in the second half.
It recalled the title game two years ago, when Phil Booth, then a sixth man, dropped 20 against North Carolina; a performance overshadowed when Kris Jenkins hit The Shot at the last second and gave Villanova its second NCAA title.
DiVincenzo’s night was more like what happened just two weeks earlier, when he hit five threes and dropped 20 points on Alabama in the first half of their second-round game March 17. He helped Villanova run away with that game, but he didn’t score another point.
He saved Villanova’s butts Monday night. Michigan wasn’t Alabama. Michigan was a No. 3 seed and had won 14 games in a row. They needed the Big Ragu in the second half, too.
With 10:51 to play, he met Charles Matthews at the rim and rejected a two-handed dunk attempt, thrilling the 67,831 at the Alamodome. On Villanova’s next possession, he shook Wagner at the free throw line and drew a foul at the rim. Next time down, he blew past Simpson for a layup. Michigan answered and cut it to 12 … so DiVincenzo dropped a 25-foot three.
The next one rained down from 28 feet. Double-teamed.
This time, everybody was smacking his backside.
And thumping his chest.
Villanova was up by 18 with 7:48 to play, minutes from their second championship in three years.
Led there, again, by a player who began the night sitting on his bottom.