Villanova-Kansas duel in Final Four could come down to threes

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Mikal Bridges 43.6 percent from three-point range this season. His performance beyond the arc could factor heavily into Villanova’s success against Kansas.

Given the way Villanova and Kansas have enjoyed success this season with the three-point shot, one suggestion is that they just face off in a game of H-O-R-S-E to decide their NCAA semifinal matchup Saturday night in San Antonio.

That’s not going to happen, of course, but the game between the two No. 1 seeds will come down to which team can shoot better from three-point range, and which team can defend the arc better.

Of course, being a basketball coach, the Wildcats’ Jay Wright knows that each team can do much more than knock down shots from distance. But it should be a fascinating duel in that one area.

“It’s funny, I think both of us really like to shoot the three-ball, but both of us really try to be good defensive teams and good rebounding teams,” Wright said Monday in a conference call involving the coaches of each of the Final Four teams.

“It’s going to be interesting who can stop each other. I think we both think that way. But it’s hard to do it against us and it’s very hard to do against Kansas.”

Villanova (34-4) leads the nation in three-point baskets with 436 and needs seven in Saturday night’s game at the Alamodome to set an NCAA Division I record for a single season. Kansas (31-7) has swished a program record 384 threes, fifth in the country.

The numbers go on and on. The Wildcats are first in threes per game at 11.5, while the Jayhawks are 19th at 10.1. Kansas shoots a little better from beyond the arc, 40.3 to 40.0, although the Cats were hurt in that department by their 4-for-24 performance in Sunday’s East Region final win over Texas Tech in Boston.

Individually, Kansas senior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is 12th in three-point percentage at 44.7 and tied for ninth with 114 treys, while teammate Devonte’ Graham has 106. Mikal Bridges of Villanova has 99 threes and is 17th in shooting the deep ball at 43.6 percent.

The advantage in three-point shots, however, is all Villanova, with 47.1 percent of their attempts coming from deep during the season, but its NCAA tournament mark is 51.3 percent. For Kansas, the figures are 41.4 percent and 39.0 percent, respectively.

“It’s interesting to me that I heard [West Virginia coach] Bob Huggins say that we remind them of Kansas,” Wright said. “I heard [Texas Tech coach]  Chris Beard say we remind them of Kansas. When I heard that, I always took it as a compliment, and now we have to play against them, so now I’m not so excited about it.”

The Wildcats will be facing a Big 12 opponent for the third straight game. After defeating the teams – West Virginia and Texas Tech – that tied for second place in the conference, they now get the Jayhawks, who won their 14th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title this season.

The winner of this game probably will be favored in the national championship contest over who advances in the game between No. 3 seed Michigan and No. 11 Loyola Chicago. But Wright doesn’t look at it that way, and he knows his players don’t, either.

“I think our guys have a good understanding and respect for everybody in this tournament, so I don’t think they would even think that this is a national championship game,” he said. “But they are as explosive an offensive team, I think, as we’ve played all year in terms of always having the ability to be a great team and using their big men.

“And now they’ve probably got the best perimeter team they’ve ever had, and still maintaining their defensive toughness and rebounding, which is pretty amazing. It’s going to be a very difficult defensive matchup for us.”