Final Four: Villanova beats Kansas, reaches NCAA championship game against Michigan

Donte DiVincenzo, center, and the Villanova bench celebrates as their early run forces Kansas to call a timeout during the 1st half of the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament at Alamodome on March 31, 2018. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

SAN ANTONIO – Villanova put on a phenomenal, record-setting three-point shooting display Saturday night in its Final Four game against Kansas, a performance so exceptional that coach Jay Wright sounded a little embarrassed to talk about it.

The Wildcats exhibited their deep shooting early and often, stunning the Jayhawks with six threes to take an 18-point lead before the game was 7 minutes old, and rolled on to a 95-79 victory at the Alamodome to earn the right to compete for their second national championship in the last three years.

Villanova (35-4), the No. 1 seed in the East, advanced to Monday night’s NCAA final against Michigan (33-7). The Wolverines punched their ticket with a 69-57 victory over Loyola Chicago earlier Saturday night.

Villanova tied the NCAA record for a Final Four game with 13 threes in the first half and finished with 18. The team smashed the NCAA Division I record for most treys in a season, now sitting at 454.

“Man, that was just one of those nights,” Wright said, a bit uncomfortably. “We made every shot to start the game and when you do that, get up 22-4, if you’re a decent free-throw shooting team, it’s tough to come back. It’s happened to us. I feel bad for Kansas. They’re a great team. We just made every shot. That happens sometimes. And you just can’t depend on that.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Eric Paschall of Villanova celebrates after dunking in an offensive rebound against Kansas during the 1st half of the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament at Alamodome on March 31, 2018.

Eric Paschall led the way with four three-point baskets on his way to a career-high 24 points. His 10-of-11 shooting tied the second-best field goal percentage in a game (90.9) with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Jalen Brunson (18 points, six assists), Omari Spellman (15 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots) and Donte DiVincenzo (15 points, eight rebounds) each knocked down three threes. In all, seven different players sank shots from beyond the arc. Twelve assists were recorded on three-pointers.

“I just think we did a good job being ready to catch and shoot,” Brunson said. “Everyone was making plays for each other. We were all ready to catch and shoot. And like Coach said, it was one of those nights where we were able to make shots.”

Kansas coach Bill Self called Villanova “as good a team as we’ve played against that I can remember.

“Credit to them, a superior team, and they were superior, obviously handled us today,” he said. “And they’d be hard for anybody to deal with if they shoot the ball like that.”

The Wildcats lit it up from three-point range right from the opening tipoff. After missing their first two attempts, Paschall, Mikal Bridges and Spellman knocked down three deep shots in as many tries. Spellman, Donte DiVincenzo and Collin Gillespie drilled three more treys shortly after and Villanova’s lead stood at 22-4 less than seven minutes into the game.

After calling timeout, Kansas switched to a zone defense and the Wildcats missed four shots (three threes) on their next four possessions and reduced the deficit to 11.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Phil Booth, right, of Villanova goes up for a shot against Udoka Azubuike of Kansas during the 1st half of the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament at Alamodome on March 31, 2018.

It was Wright’s turn to call timeout, and the Wildcats started clicking once again. Paschall, Phil Booth, Bridges and Brunson all scored from beyond the arc over a 2:15 span to get the advantage back to 17, 34-17. Two more threes by Brunson and one by Booth kept the lead at 15, 43-28, with 3:47 remaining.

The Cats went just 2 of 8 from the floor with no threes the rest of the half but maintained their 15-point margin, 47-32, at the halftime buzzer. Brunson scored 13 points in the first half with Spellman and Paschall adding eight each, and Spellman contributing nine rebounds.

Paschall scored 10 of Villanova’s first 12 points in the second half and the advantage grew to 20, 59-39, on his three-point basket with 15:13 to play. Spellman’s mid-range jumper with 13:14 to play made it 67-45. The lead got back to 20, 83-63, on DiVincenzo’s three-ball with just under 4 minutes to play.

The Wildcats, who shot 55.4 percent overall for the night, won their previous two games, over West Virginia and Texas Tech, in grind-it-out fashion. Their defense wasn’t exceptional Saturday night with the Jayhawks (31-8) hitting 45.2 percent from the floor but after their initial flurry, Kansas got no closer than 11 points in the first half and 14 in the second.

“It doesn’t look great,” Wright said, “but against that team – a team that averages 80 points a game and is a very, very talented offensive team, very well-coaches – it’s actually a pretty good job.”

Devonte’ Graham scored 23 points and Malik Newman added 21 for Kansas.

Camera icon Eric Paschall of Villanova celebrates after dunking in an offensive rebound against Kansas during the 1st half of the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament at Alamodome on March 31, 2018. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
DevonteÕ Graham, left, of Kansas is comforted by Coach Bill Self as he leaves the game during the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament at Alamodome on March 31, 2018.