Ryan Arcidiacono surely wasn't Villanova's first choice to be trying a go-ahead 3-pointer in the closing seconds against Kansas on Friday night, but the sophomore guard picked an ideal moment to emerge from his season-long shooting slump.
With 10.1 seconds left and his team trailing by a single point, Arcidiacono curled around a double screen, caught a pass from Darrun Hilliard and buried a left-wing 3-pointer to give Villanova a two-point lead. Kansas freshman Frank Mason missed a go-ahead 3-pointer at the other end, James Bell sank two free throws and Villanova emerged with a 63-59 upset victory in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
Villanova's victory validates an undefeated start that previously hadn't included any truly noteworthy wins aside from a 34-point drubbing of Towson. The Wildcats likely will enter the AP Top 25 on Monday with a victory in Saturday's title game against Iowa, which has slipped past Xavier in overtime and pummeled UTEP to advance to play for the Battle 4 Atlantis championship.
That Villanova managed to spring the upset is remarkable considering stars JayVaughn Pinkston and James Bell missed a combined 16 of 22 shots they attempted. Kansas also had a considerable size advantage in the paint, but foul trouble mitigated that a bit and Villanova's trapping defense helped keep the ball out of the hands of the Kansas big men when they were able to stay in the game.
It looked as though Villanova might not need any late heroics to advance when it built an 11-point second-half lead against Kansas. That changed, however, as the Jayhawks held the Wildcats scoreless for nearly seven minutes, finally taking the lead with 33 seconds to play on Mason's spinning driving layup and and-1 free throw.
Kansas needed a comeback just to make it interesting because the Jayhawks played by far their worst offensive game of the season.
A flu-ridden Andrew Wiggins took only eight shots and scored only 10 points, leaving a fairly routine 5-foot jumper in the lane short in the final 90 seconds. Wayne Selden, Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis also were largely ineffective. Only the rapidly improving Mason and freshman 7-footer Joel Embiid were able to make consistent positive contributions on offense -- and Embiid still fouled out in just 12 minutes.
Given that Kansas lost all five starters from last year's team and is relying heavily on four freshmen so far this season, it shouldn't be stunning to see the second-ranked Jayhawks drop an early game. And given that Villanova toppled highly ranked Syracuse and Louisville last season on its way to the NCAA tournament, it shouldn't be too big a shock that the Wildcats were the ones to pull off the upset.
Kansas will continue to improve as Mason takes more minutes from Tharpe at point guard and Wiggins, Selden and Embiid further tap into their potential. Meanwhile, Villanova has the look of a team that can contend with Georgetown, Marquette and Creighton for first place in the ultra-balanced Big East conference.
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