The Kansas Jayhawks will play for the 10th national championship in school history after their 81-65 victory over the Villanova Wildcats in the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament Saturday night.
Kansas has been arguably the most dominant team in the tournament thus far. It blew out Miami 76-50 in the Elite Eight to secure the program's 16th appearance in the Final Four. The Jayhawks have now won 10 straight games overall dating back to March 3.
Villanova cruised into the Final Four by winning its first four tournament games by an average of 11 points. Head coach Jay Wright's crew had won nine straight games and 14 of their last 15 overall dating back to Feb. 5.
The Jayhawks stormed out of the gate in the first half. They led by as many as 19 points before Villanova cut the deficit down to 38-29 with 1:24 remaining before halftime.
Kansas made nearly as many three-pointers (seven) in the first half as Villanova had field goals (10). Ochai Agbaji was a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes.
Offensive rebounding was the biggest factor keeping Villanova within shouting distance. It had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, helping to offset a 33.3 percent field-goal percentage.
Collin Gillespie and Caleb Daniels combined for 19 of the Wildcats' 29 points in the opening half.
McCormack's size inside proved to be a crucial difference-maker in the win. His 25 points marked his second-highest point total in a game in four seasons with the Jayhawks.
Kansas shot 53.7 percent from the field, 54.2 percent from three, and had a 35-28 rebounding advantage. Villanova eventually found a rhythm on offense, finishing 13-of-31 from behind the arc, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Jayhawks' onslaught.
Notable Game Stats
- David McCormack (KU): 25 points (10-of-12 FG), 9 rebounds
- Ochai Agbaji (KU): 21 points (6-of-7 3PT), 2 rebounds
- Christian Braun (KU): 10 points (4-of-8 FG), 5 assists
- Jalen Wilson (KU): 11 points (4-of-11 FG), 12 rebounds
- Caleb Daniels (NOVA): 13 points (5-of-14 FG), 5 rebounds
- Collin Gillespie (NOVA): 17 points (6-of-11 FG), 2 steals
McCormack, Ogbaji Have Jayhawks on Brink of History
It would be hard to find an offense playing better than Kansas' right now. Saturday marked the team's third time in five tournament games shooting at least 50 percent from the field.
McCormack and Agbaji were unstoppable for the Big 12 champs. Since being held to five points against Providence, Agbaji has hit a groove. The senior guard at one point made eight consecutive three-pointers dating back to the Elite Eight win over Miami.
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Kansas leads Villanova by 11 at the break behind the nearly flawless play of Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack.<br><br>The duo combined for 25 points on 9-10 FG and 4-4 3-PT in the opening half. The rest of their Kansas teammates have 15 points on 6-21 FG and 3-10 3-PT. <a href="https://t.co/sB3xf8jSbt">pic.twitter.com/sB3xf8jSbt</a>
Coming out in the second half, as Villanova was looking to start closing the gap, Agbaji kept making shots to halt any momentum for the opposition.
With Agbaji taking care of business behind the arc, McCormack was more than happy to hold his own in the paint. The 6'10" forward had no problem taking advantage of Villanova's undersized frontcourt.
Villanova certainly didn't go away quietly in this game. The second half is when the offense came alive, putting the pressure on Kansas to respond.
Two of the biggest plays saw McCormack use his size to halt the Wildcats' momentum. He grabbed an offensive rebound off Dajuan Harris Jr.'s' missed three and got a layup to extend the lead back to 10 at 52-42.
Three minutes later, Jalen Wilson blocked a jumper from Gillespie. McCormack got the ball on the other end of the court and slammed it home to put the Jayhawks up 62-50.
Coming out of a timeout after that possession, McCormack was taken off the floor for a brief rest. Villanova's next two possessions resulted in two offensive rebounds and five points to get within seven at 62-55.
Christian Braun, who ranked second on the Jayhawks in scoring during the regular season, eventually got hot. He made two crucial buckets on back-to-back possessions, including his only three to make it a 71-59 game with 3:58 left to play.
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WHAT CAN BRAUN DO FOR YOU 🤯🤯<br><br>Christian Braun with an UNREAL triple!<a href="https://twitter.com/KUHoops?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KUHoops</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MFinalFour?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MFinalFour</a> <a href="https://t.co/EYArMWJKdZ">pic.twitter.com/EYArMWJKdZ</a>
The Jayhawks have scored at least 76 points in four of their five tournament wins thus far. They dropped 81 against Villanova on a night when three of their five starters were struggling to get in rhythm.
If the offense continues to play at this level, Kansas will be cutting down the nets on Monday and celebrating the fourth national title in school history.
Cold Start Sends Wildcats Home
Things could not have started worse for the Wildcats on Saturday night. They only had one shot attempt and committed three turnovers on their first four possessions to find themselves in a 10-0 hole.
Midway through the first half, McCormack and Agbaji had matched or exceeded Villanova's point total.
Wright's team came into the game unable to match the size Kansas had inside, especially with McCormack, so the strategy had to be win with speed and shooting.
It took a long time—too long, ultimately—before Villanova was able to play up to its usual standard. The Wildcats failed to hit the 30-point mark in a half for the third consecutive half dating back to the Elite Eight.
Villanova scored at least 30 points in every half in each of its first three tournament games.
The key adjustment that gave the Wildcats a glimmer of hope was Wright switching to a smaller lineup of perimeter shooters. McCormack lives in the paint on both ends of the court, so the numbers game worked for Villanova.
After Kansas opened the second half on an 8-3 run, Villanova rattled off eight consecutive points. Daniels and Brandon Slater made threes on back-to-back possessions to cap off the run.
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8-0 run for the Wildcats 👀<br><br>Nova down by 8 after the Caleb Daniels triple<a href="https://twitter.com/NovaMBB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NovaMBB</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MFinalFour?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MFinalFour</a> <a href="https://t.co/4pSEejItOC">pic.twitter.com/4pSEejItOC</a>
The last time Villanova would get within single digits came at the 4:29 mark when Jermaine Samuels' free throw made it a 68-59 score.
Kansas would score the next seven points to put the game out of reach.
Villanova's bench was missing in action Saturday. Bryan Antoine scored the only points for the reserves (three). The Jayhawks bench only had five points, but they did have two players attempt at least one shot.
The story for Villanova all season was the offense. If it was scoring points in bunches, this team was hard to beat. If the defense had to step up, things got dicey.
The Wildcats had an off night with the ball, and it wound up being their undoing.
Kansas will play the winner of North Carolina-Duke in the national championship game on Monday at 9 p.m. ET on TBS.