March Madness: Villanova's Tournament run ends with Final Four loss to Kansas

·6 min read

Kansas too much for undermanned Villanova in NCAA Final Four originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Villanova’s latest NCAA dream run ended Saturday night at the hands of a bigger and deeper Kansas Jayhawks team.

Jay Wright’s undermanned Villanova team gave the top-seeded Jayhawks all they could handle for 34 minutes before losing 81-65 Saturday in an NCAA Tournament semifinal game at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Villanova, which trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half, whittled the lead down to six with six minutes to go and had a clean look to cut it to five a moment later, but Kansas outscored the Wildcats 17-7 over the final 5 ½ minutes to advance to its 10th Championship Game.

Kansas will face North Carolina at 9:20 p.m. Monday in the National Championship Game. UNC beat Duke 81-77 in the other semifinal.

Villanova, seeking its 3rd NCAA Championship in the last six Tournaments, finished 30-8, its 6th 30-win season in school history – all under Wright.

Here’s our 10 Observations from Villanova-Kansas:

1. My first impression is that Villanova played about as well as it humanly could. The Wildcats missed a few open looks and committed some frustrating early turnovers, but with Justin Moore watching from the bench and virtually no backups the Wildcats just lost to a slightly better team that shot really well. 'Nova fought as hard as it could, defended intelligently, stayed out of foul trouble – which they had to do – and took good shots. They just didn't have the manpower to compete with a No. 1 seed having a good day. But this Villanova team has an awful lot to be proud of. For the Wildcats to go 30-9, win the Big East, win the South Region and put up a terrific battle against a loaded Kansas team, that’s awfully impressive. They just weren’t quite good enough.

2. Kansas raced out to a 10-0 lead, and Villanova could just never claw back into it. The Wildcats ran off 10 straight points late in the first half to close within nine, but then Kansas built the lead back to 16 early in the second half. Villanova clawed back again and got within six at 64-58 on a Jermaine Samuels drive and foul shot with 6:10 left. Caleb Daniels had a good look at a 3 with 5:20 to go that would have cut the deficit to 5, but he missed, Kansas rebounded and scored, and that was it.

3. Villanova really had no answer for 6-10 David McCormack, who averages 10 points per game but powered inside against the smaller Wildcats to make 10 of 12 dunks and layups and finished with 25 points, 2nd-most of his career. His 83 percent field goal percentage is 9th-highest in Final Four history and highest since Villanova’s Eric Paschall was 10-for-11 for 91 percent against Kansas in 2018. It’s also 4th-highest ever against Villanova in a Tournament game and highest since Marcus Hicks of Mississippi shot 9-for-10 in a 72-70 Ole Miss win over the Wildcats in a Midwest Regional 1st-round game in Milwaukee. When McCormack wasn’t scoring from inside, Ochai Agbaji was scoring from outside. He hit his first six 3’s and finished 6-for-7 for 21 points. That 86 percent shooting from 3 is highest ever in a Final Four game [minimum five makes]. Shelvin Mack of Butler was 5-for-6 against Virginia Commonwealth in 2011. McCormack and Agbaji combined to shoot 16-for-19 [84 percent]. The rest of the Jayhawks shot 13-for-35 [37 percent].

4. Collin Gillespie finished his brilliant career with 17 points on 5-for-8 from 3-point range and none of them were easy makes. Gillespie battled to the end and finished his career with 1,858 points and 326 3-pointers. What can you say about Gillespie? A Villanova all-timer.

5. It hasn’t been a great Tournament for Brandon Slater – he only scored five points in Villanova’s first four games on 1-for-10 shooting - but with Moore out, Slater really raised his game and contributed 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. It was the first time in his college career he’s had 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists in any game. Gotta give him credit for staying confident late in the season when things weren't going well, and delivering in the clutch. One really impressive sequence came late in the first half when Slater rebounded a Caleb Daniels 3-point miss, went up and missed a follow shot, rebounded his own miss, went up again and missed, rebounded his own miss again and kicked it out to Gillespie, who buried a 3 to cap that 10-0 run that cut the 19-point lead down to nine.

6. Villanova is usually so good with the ball. The Wildcats averaged only 9.4 turnovers per game this year, but they committed turnovers on four of their first eight possessions, including three in a row at one point, and that helped Kansas jump out to that 10-0 lead that Villanova really never recovered from. Villanova only committed 11 in the game, but those early ones were killers.

7. Daniels finished with 13 points and 5 boards with at least four 3-pointers that looked perfect but spun out. Samuels added nine points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists, and Eric Dixon not only battled McCormack in the post all night, he contributed 7 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. With Moore out, Bryan Antoine became the 6th man and had a 3 in 19 minutes.

8. The 16-point deficit is the 2nd-largest in Wright’s NCAA Tournament career. Villanova lost 87-61 to Purdue in Hartford in the 2019 second round. It’s the 7th-largest loss in Villanova Tournament history. Wright is now 34-14 at Villanova in the Tournament, 2-2 in the national semifinals and 4-2 in the Final Four.

9. Villanova shot 8-for-10 from the foul line, finishing the Tournament 61-for-69 for 88.4 percent, which is 2nd-highest in Final Four history and highest since Virginia shot 88.7 percent [47-for-53] in 1981. Villanova did break the NCAA Division 1 season record for foul shooting, finishing at 527-for-635 for 83.0 percent. Harvard had held the record of 82.2 percent on 545-for-641 since 1984. Villanova shot at least 83 percent in four of its five Tournament games and 21 of 37 games overall.

10. This was the final game in a Villanova uniform for Gillespie and Samuels. Moore has two years of eligibility remaining, although obviously it remains to be seen when he'll be able to return to action after suffering that heartbreaking Achilles injury at the end of the Houston game. Daniels and Slater have a year of eligibility left thanks to the NCAA’s COVID waiver. Villanova next year will also return Dixon, Doylestown’s promising Jordan Longino from Germantown Academy, who missed the end of the season with a knee injury, as well as Antoine, Chris Arcidiacono and 6-9 Trey Patterson, plus another stocked recruiting class. Gillespie and Samuels will be missed tremendously, but success never takes a year off at Villanova. They’ll be an elite program as long as Wright is around.