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SAN ANTONIO—One by one, Villanova keeps winning games and getting closer to another national title.
Three by three, the Wildcats kept knocking down shots, making sure Kansas wouldn’t get in their way.
Villanova made a Final Four-record 18 three-pointers Saturday night and also became the most prolific three-point shooting team in college hoops history, playing long ball to snuff out the Jayhawks early in a 95-79 victory.
Junior wingman Eric Paschall led the barrage, going 4 for 5 from three, 10 for 11 overall, and finishing with a career-high 24 points.
But the hoop was as wide as the Alamodome for pretty much everyone in a Wildcats jersey. Seven ‘Nova players made threes. Villanova shot 50 per cent from behind the arc in the first half to put things out of reach — and 45 per cent for the game.
“That happens sometimes when you’re a good-shooting team and when you start that way,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It’s hard for Kansas, it’s hard to come back. That doesn’t happen often. We’re lucky it happened tonight.”
Next up is Michigan, which will try to guard the perimeter Monday night when Villanova (35-5) goes for its second title in three seasons.
Good luck with that.
Nobody has had much success this season, and in what turned out to be an unexpectedly lopsided matchup between top seeds, Kansas (31-8) certainly didn’t Saturday night. Player of the year Jalen Brunson made three threes and finished with 18 points. Omari Spellman made three, as well, in a 15-point, 13-rebound monster game.
About one minute into the second half, Paschall drained a three for Villanova’s 14th of the game, breaking a Final Four record first set by UNLV in 1987.
Much earlier, at about the 13-minute mark of the first half, Collin Gillespie spotted up and swished for ‘Nova’s sixth 3 of the game, which gave it the NCAA record for threes in a season, with 442.
VMI set that record in 2007. Very few remember that team, though, because even though the importance of the long shot has grown as the decades have passed, it’s never been thought of as a guaranteed way to win consistently.
Wright’s team is laying waste to that theory and, at times, making other teams look bad while doing it.
On Saturday, the typical Villanova possession involved working the ball down low on the wing, then a skip pass across the bottom of the paint, followed by one, two or three passes around the arc until somebody got open. It usually worked. Most of the 18 makes barely skimmed the net.
Villanova attempted 40 shots from three, and only 25 from two.
Gillespie’s record-setter gave Villanova a 22-4 lead, and at that point, Kansas had as many turnovers as points and had taken as many timeouts as it had field goals.
Coach Bill Self did what he could, urging his seven-foot centre, Udoka Azubuike, out of the paint and into the faces of this group of hybrid forward-guards, all of whom can shoot. The big fella couldn’t get there.
The Jayhawks, back in San Antonio on the 10-year anniversary of winning their last title here, made mini runs, but the deficit never got below double digits.
Devonte Graham, the senior guard who has been the glue in this Final Four season, led Kansas with 23 points. Malik Newman, who pushed his game into overdrive during the post-season, had 21. They combined to make 6 of 13 3-pointers themselves, but didn’t get much help.
About the only drama in the second half was whether the Wildcats would top Loyola Marymount’s tournament record of 21 three-pointers in a game (against Michigan, in a loss in 1990). Didn’t happen, mainly because they didn’t need it.
But there’s still Monday.