The No. 2 seed Villanova Wildcats are headed to their first Final Four since 2009 following a 64-59 win over the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks in Saturday's South Regional final at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Villanova went the final four minutes, 29 seconds of regulation without a made field goal, but a questionable foul call on Devonte' Graham (17 points) with 34 seconds remaining ultimately forced the Jayhawks into desperation mode.
A couple of possessions later, Kansas guard Frank Mason committed a costly turnover that tilted the result in the Wildcats' favor, as March Madness TV on Twitter documented:
Villanova's offense was hardly prolific matched up against an uber-athletic Kansas team, but the Wildcats drilled 18 of 19 free throws—including some huge freebies from Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson down the stretch—to send the Jayhawks packing.
Arcidiacono, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins led the Wildcats with 13 points apiece, while Wayne Selden and Mason chipped in 16 points each for Kansas to supplement Graham's superb outing.
Although the Wildcats entered halftime up seven points, they didn't look like the same team that shredded the Miami Hurricanes defense from every spot on the floor on Thursday night.
Over the game's first 20 minutes, Villanova shot just 2-of-9 from three and committed seven turnovers—a noteworthy number considering the Wildcats coughed the rock up just eight times Thursday against the No. 3 seed Hurricanes.
However, Villanova was able to make positive strides in the first half. A defense that entered the night ranked 11th in KenPom.com's adjusted efficiency metric came to play, and it forced the Jayhawks into 10 first-half turnovers.
Points, then, were at a premium, as CBS Sports' Will Brinson observed:
Who let Wisconsin and Pittsburgh back in the tournament???— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) March 27, 2016
Villanova was able to turn defense into offense, as evidenced by Hart's breakaway slam, but conversions rarely came easy for the Wildcats.
The same, though, was true for a Kansas team that was baffled by Villanova's pressure defense for the majority of the first half. Perry Ellis, in particular, was stymied by the Wildcats' decision to collapse on him in the post with Jenkins operating as the primary defender, per NBC Sports' Rob Dauster:
What a half for Kris Jenkins. He led Villanova with nine points and, more importantly, did the heavy lifting defending Perry Ellis.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 27, 2016
But by the time the second half rolled around, the script had flipped. Kansas looked far more loose, while Villanova tightened up considerably, as an inbounds giveaway indicated:
Kansas started the second half on a 15-4 run, and it achieved a full momentum swing after Jenkins picked up his fourth foul with 13 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in regulation before Graham banked in a long-range triple:
Selden kept the Jayhawks rolling with a crazy and-1 conversion off the top of the backboard just minutes later:
But when crunch time rolled around, Villanova slugged back with a 10-0 run to take a 50-45 lead and never looked back despite floundering on the offensive end quite a bit.
The Wildcats shot just 40.4 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three in the win, but that actually may have been a net positive for head coach Jay Wright's club. While it was hardly an efficient effort, Villanova proved it can win in a game that comes down to key defensive stops just two days after torching Miami with one of the most impressive shooting displays college basketball has seen this season.
Now the Wildcats will need a mix of those two performances to knock off the second-seeded Oklahoma Sooners, who defeated the top-seeded Oregon Ducks in Saturday's West Regional final.
Slowing down scoring machine Buddy Hield will be among the most daunting tasks Villanova faces this season, but with a deep cast of contributors and an infectious work ethic that permeates from the backcourt to the frontcourt, the Wildcats should ride into Houston ready to wreak havoc.
During their on-court celebration, the Wildcats took time to sing to the team's birthday boy, as shown by Sports Illustrated's Campus Rush on Twitter:
Villanova's official Twitter account later captured video of the victors going bonkers in the locker room with Wright:
Jenkins, who has been an integral component of Villanova's core all season long, took time to discuss the road ahead, according to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia:
"We're still not satisfied."— Comcast SportsNet (@CSNPhilly) March 27, 2016
- Kris Jenkins nearly brought to tears talking about how much he loves this team. pic.twitter.com/i496iHrg4r
Back in the Kansas locker room, Selden broke down one of the team's tactical mistakes, per the Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait:
Tait also relayed an official explanation regarding Graham's controversial fifth foul that allowed Villanova to create some distance at the free-throw line:
"Every one of them. They've all showed so much heart and carried this program," Kansas' Landen Lucas said of the team's seniors, according to the program's official Twitter account.
Check out Bleacher Report's live updating bracket to track your picks along the road to the Final Four.