Villanova's Unbelievable Firepower Keys Run to Title Game

Jason King@@JasonKingBRSenior Writer, B/R MagApril 1, 2018

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 25:  Donte DiVincenzo #10, Phil Booth #5, and Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats celebrate defeating the Texas Tech Red Raiders 71-59 in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional to advance to the 2018 Final Four at TD Garden on March 25, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

SAN ANTONIO — Ever since Kris Jenkins swished a last-second three-pointer to beat North Carolina in the 2016 NCAA title game, Villanova fans have buzzed about "The Shot."

Two years later, though—in the Wildcats' return to Final Four—it was all about "The Shots."

Plural.

Saturday's 95-79 beatdown of Kansas may not have been for the national championship, but you can bet it will forever be hailed as one of the legendary performances in Villanova history.

And Final Four history, too.

What the Wildcats did to Kansas on college basketball's biggest stage was unprecedented. Before Saturday, no team in history had made more than 13 three-pointers in a Final Four game. Villanova had that many at halftime and finished with 18 on the night, tying an NCAA tournament record.

Even more impressive was Villanova's balance, as seven Wildcats contributed to the long-range tally.

"I feel bad for Kansas," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "They're a great team. We just made every shot. It was one of those nights."

Not exactly.

Yes, the majority of the Wildcats' three-pointers came on wide-open attempts. "Twenty-foot free throws," one media member chuckled on press row. Still, even though the Wildcats looked at the basket Saturday and saw a Hula Hoop, saying they won simply because of a few hot hands isn't giving them enough credit. Rather, it was the work Villanova's players did to get those open looks that led to history-making results.

The crisp ball movement and selflessness that Villanova displayed Saturday should be used in instructional tapes. Pass after pass after pass until a sniper was left wide-open. It was surgical, and Kansas couldn't keep up.

More than the 18 made three-pointers, Villanova players said the statistic that makes them most proud is the 20 assists (on 36 baskets). Contrast that with Kansas, which had just eight.

"That," Wildcats guard Phil Booth said, "is Villanova basketball."

Booth and All-American point guard Jalen Brunson each had six assists.

"We see someone like Jalen do it, it's easy to be unselfish," Wildcats guard Donte DiVincenzo said. "If I have a good shot, that means my teammate probably has a great shot. That's what helps us win games: great shots, not good shots."

Villanova got plenty of them Saturday—and it wasn't as if its performance came against a mediocre opponent in an early-round game. The Wildcats did it against a blue blood in No. 1 seed Kansas, which entered the game high on momentum after an overtime victory against Duke in the Elite Eight.

"They dominated the game from the jump," Self said. "Once we got punched in the face a few times, we never recovered."

Indeed, Saturday's game was never in question, as Villanova jumped out to a 22-4 lead and never looked back. The Wildcats made 13 of 26 shots from beyond the arc in the first half and led 47-32 at intermission before increasing their lead to 22 points midway through the second.

"They got up 9-2, and I thought we were OK, but we need a couple of good possessions fast," Self said. "And then it gets to 22-4, and it's like, 'Oh my gosh. We're seven minutes in, and this thing is…we're going to have to play just about perfect to get back.'

"I tried to encourage our guys and tell them they weren't going to keep shooting like that. But it never really slowed down."

The Wildcats said their offensive success fueled them defensively, especially early. Much like Villanova, Kansas advanced to the Final Four thanks to its prowess from long range. But the Jayhawks were rattled, as Villanova had made 10 three-pointers before the Jayhawks even attempted a shot from long range.

"We were stagnant on offense," Kansas guard Malik Newman said, "so it gave them a better chance to go at us. We didn't move the ball, so bodies weren't moving, so they were just kind of guarding areas."

Donte DiVincenzo shooting one of Nova's 40 three-point attempts on the night.
Donte DiVincenzo shooting one of Nova's 40 three-point attempts on the night.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Or perhaps they were simply deflated because of what the Wildcats were doing to them. The 95 points Villanova scored Saturday were the most allowed by a KU team in the Bill Self era.

"That's as good of a team as we've played against since I can remember," Self said, and there are likely plenty of other coaches who would make the same claim.

The Wildcats (35-4) have won 10 consecutive games, including five NCAA tournament victories by an average of 17.8 points.

"This is our best offensive team," Wright said. "We've had some good ones, but this is our best."

Villanova is averaging 84.8 points in its five NCAA tournament victories.

At that pace, they won't need a Jenkins-like heroic shot to beat Michigan in Monday's NCAA title game. By that point, it won't even be close.

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